Lizzie Hale (M2), Katherine Konvinse (G2), and Tory Martucci (G1)
February 27, 2017

Mental Health at Vanderbilt: Updates from the Chancellor’s Committee and the MSTP Wellness Committee

The rates of mental illness in medical professionals are significantly greater than those of the general population. Recent epidemiological studies suggest that this increased risk begins during medical school, with 27% of medical students having depression, 11% having suicidal ideation, and 40-80% having high levels of anxiety (JAMA 2016 & J Racial Ethn Health Disp 2015). In an effort to curb this trend, Vanderbilt has made continuous efforts to increase student well-being, including the Wellness Committee, the creation of the Advising Colleges, the implementation of a pass-fail curriculum, and the assignment of mentors to all students. However, encouraging “wellness” can only go so far. For many students, both with and without mental illness, focusing only on the well aspects of mental health misses the mark.

In response, Vanderbilt has implemented a multifaceted approach to further support the well-being of students and ensure that accessible mental health resources are available to the campus community. Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos created a committee of representatives from each school in the University to better understand the problems and potential solutions surrounding mental health. The committee will gather information about Vanderbilt’s already-established resources along with data regarding what other universities are doing for both policy and research into mental health. MSTP M2 Lizzie Hale is a member of the Chancellor's Wellness Committee. On a more local scale, the MSTP has created a committee of students to evaluate and address the high rates of mental illness seen particularly in MSTP students.

Thus far, the MSTP Wellness Committee has begun work on a comprehensive curriculum that incorporates issues identified from the results of a survey sent to the MSTP student body. Additionally, the committee has begun a series of lectures, the first of which was a discussion led by Dr. Charlene Dewey, Co-Director of the Center for Professional Health, regarding burnout. The next event will be a panel discussion of Vanderbilt physician-scientists and current students who have experienced personal struggles with mental illness. This event will occur on Wednesday, March 8 as part of MSTP Seminar Series. Furthermore, the MSTP G2 class has invited Dr. Raymond Kotwicki, a prominent leader in the nationwide initiative to better address the mental health needs of medical professionals, to be the keynote speaker for the upcoming MSTP Retreat this June.