Medical residency training has long been associated with stress. In one study, 34 percent of trainees at a medical school in Alberta, Canada, said their life was stressful, with time pressure the top motivating factor. Moreover, 17 percent said their mental health was "fair" or "poor." Now, program directors are investing in trainee well-being — the state of feeling content and comfortable — in graduate school. This is something you can do, too. Here are five ways to boost happiness in residency training.
1. Better Nutrition
Long shifts soon take their toll on residents. Recently, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education raised the 16-hour shift limit for first-year students, meaning trainees could work for 28 hours at a time. Lengthy, irregular working hours can lead to poor dietary habits as trainees forego healthy meals for convenience food and sugary snacks.
"Most medical students and residents eat poorly," says Mary L. Brandt, MD, a professor of surgery, pediatrics and medical ethics. "It’s not really a surprise. The days are packed with work from sun-up to sun-down. There are no planned meals because there can’t be. Food is a quick bite when it is available. It’s feast or famine."
Instead, encourage trainees to consume fresh, wholesome foods — fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc. — during their shifts.
2. Provide Gym Access
The American Medical Association suggests that residency program leaders should provide staff with access to a gym, something that comes with a range of health benefits. Research shows that physical activity decreases stress levels. Aerobic exercise, in particular, can improve and stabilize mood, reduce tension, boost sleep quality, and even increase self-esteem. You may want to set exercise facilities on-site or provide free access to a local gym.
3. Offer Support
Medical residents might find graduate school a challenge, especially first-year students. Offering a support network could alleviate some of their fears and result in greater productivity. The Department of Graduate Medical Education at Stanford University, for example, manages a helpline for students who require counseling, mental health services and coping skills. You might want to set up a helpline of your own, or include stress management resources on your website.
4. Encourage Social Activities
A good social support network helps residents manage stress in graduate school. You could organize regular social events and encourage residents across all years to get involved. There are multiple benefits associated with social events outside a medical environment. Residents can seek out peer support, make friends and develop new interests. Many graduate schools have experienced great success with social programs. Stanford University’s Balance in Life, for example, was designed for medical residents to relax and forge new social relationships.
5. Measure Well-Being
Measuring the well-being of your residents provides you with in-depth insights into their emotional state and how they deal with the pressures of the job. You might want to conduct a questionnaire and ask students, anonymously, to rate their well-being from one to ten.
Alternatively, the Well-Being Index, from MedEd Web Solutions, lets you identify the potential risks associated with medical residency programs, including trainee fatigue, burnout, and poor patient care. The tool has already been used by more than 35,000 medical professionals.
The ACGME-accredited Well-Being Index has exceeded the standards for a well-being self-assessment tool. During grad students' residency or fellowship can be the most effective time to unearth burnout symptoms and causes, as well as offer immediate resources to combat them. The Well-Being Index has taken the requirements and built upon them to serve residents and fellows with the best assessments and resources when they're needed the most.
Measuring resident well-being not only provides insights, it offers a way to track.
Residency programs are often stressful environments. Better nutrition, well-being assessments, gym access, professional support and social activities could improve well-being for residents, resulting in healthier and happier trainees.