Wellness priorities a year after COVID: A conversation with Katie McKay and LeAnn Lam
by Emma Mattson
The Student Wellness Committee (SWC) transitions leadership this fall, as 2019-20 presidents Jaclyn Lee and Cooper March pass the torch to Katie McKay (M4) and LeAnn Lam (M3).
Both McKay and Lam dove into wellness work almost as soon as they arrived on Vanderbilt’s campus.
“I’ve known from when I got to campus that I would love to be involved with wellness,” McKay said. “It’s actually one of the reasons that drew me to Vanderbilt: the strong wellness program.”
It also helped that McKay’s Big/Little family built strong relationships from the start. The four generations within the family met regularly for dinner or hangouts, and that experience drove McKay to pursue the Junior Mentoring Chair position as an M2.
Lam has a similar story to tell. After getting to know the Wellness community through events her M1 year, she officially joined the Mind Committee at the beginning of her second year.
“I knew from the start that the wellness program had such a strong presence at the med school, and it was really inspirational to see how that was a true priority,” Lam said. “People were talking about [wellness], and it wasn’t something that was stigmatized.”
As Lam and McKay jump into their new leadership roles, mental health and mentoring will remain key focuses. But the leaders also say they’ll be responding to the effects left on the community by the pandemic.
“What makes Vanderbilt so strong is its community of people and getting to know other classmates across different years,” McKay said. “Given the limitations that happened during COVID, we lost some of that.”
For McKay and Lam, this means unity and connectedness will be top priorities this year.
“Another one of our big goals was reprioritizing mental health, because it really took a hit during the pandemic,” Lam said. “While we made some major strides in our year, there was further emphasis once we were coming out of the pandemic on, how can we add more tools and make them more available?”
On the one hand, this could look like deeper collaboration with the University Counseling Center and other VU schools’ wellness committees. Within the School of Medicine itself, Lam and McKay hope to partner with other student organizations like the Social Mission Committee and the Student National Medical Association to explore the intersection of antiracism and mental health.
And, of course, the leaders are thrilled to reinstate College Cup this year.
“Everyone’s very excited for College Cup to come back,” Lam said. “We feel so honored to be the year that gets to bring it back, so we don’t want to let anyone down.”
For Lam and McKay, College Cup exemplifies the balance the committee is trying to strike: fun wellness programming (like College Cup) with plenty of time to address serious issues like mental health in medical school.
“We’ve shown the strength of our med school over the last year during really unprecedented circumstances,” McKay said. “Now I hope we can show the strength of our med school through more normal circumstances, as we all try to grow and connect back together.”