For years, the wellness needs of medical students have been overlooked and brushed aside, both in school and after while furthering their training as an intern or resident. They've been expected to get by on little sleep while excelling at their studies. Once accepted by a medical facility, the demands often become even more brutal. Medical students have been expected to work through these conditions without complaint while keeping up a superhuman schedule.
Fortunately, many medical schools have realized that students should not be traumatized by the training, for their own sake and for the sake of those they treat. Graduates of these programs are now looking for employment that considers all their needs—physical, educational, and emotional.
Medical school is often a tough experience—one that takes its toll on students. Up to one-third of all medical students suffer from some level of depression, and many do not seek treatment for the condition. Experts identify several factors that may contribute to this distress. Competition at traditional med schools is fierce and unrelenting, the work load can be crushing, and there is a marked lack of support options. Students are often afraid to admit they are struggling for fear of showing weakness and perhaps losing out on career opportunities.
Those that make it through medical school are often plunged into an even more competitive and relentless atmosphere as interns and residents. Many are expected to work obscenely long shifts, nap while they are on call, and generally neglect their own health. It's a systemic problem and a destructive culture that no one should have to endure. The profession loses many good candidates because of this unnecessarily difficult journey.
Fortunately, a number of medical schools, including UNC Chapel Hill, the University of Alabama Birmingham, and Baylor College of Medicine, have changed their approach to a holistic one that focuses on the students' mental, physical, and emotional health as well as their studies. While academic performance is certainly still stressed, the administration realizes that their students will learn and perform better when their health and well-being are prioritized. The "tough it out" philosophy is gradually losing popularity.
To fight clinical distress, these schools and many others throughout the nation closely monitor their students' wellness on six different dimensions of distress through use of the Well-Being Index. Along with evaluating well-being, these progressive programs also provide customized resources for their students. Students are encouraged to assess their wellness and ask for help when needed, and are not stigmatized for it when they do. The advantages to adapting similar measures are clear to experts in the medical community.
Studies have shown that sleep-deprived residents simply are not alert and cannot offer the best treatment. Their chronic fatigue not only affects their own health, but also puts patients in danger as distressed doctors are more likely to make mistakes and have impaired judgment. While this conclusion seems obvious, medical schools and hospitals for many years deliberately put their interns and residents under strain as a way to train them in endurance. Not surprisingly, some dropped out to pursue other interests.
The students who are benefiting from wellness programs and tools such as the Well-Being Index are appreciative of the changes and will no doubt look to their future employers to offer similar support. Many doctors and administrators have long known that the current system of competitiveness and extreme physical and emotional stress was not producing the best results, and now, substantial changes are being made in programs throughout the world. New medical school graduates have been trained under a different culture, and, as a result, will expect a more sophisticated workplace—one that nurtures their basic human needs as well as their medical abilities.