Student wellness a priority for VUSM
Brian Drolet, MD’09, has come full circle with the Student Wellness Program at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM).
He helped start the program in 2006 during his time as a student, and he is now a participating faculty member.
“The wellness program grew out of the concept that in order to be a good doctor, you have to be healthy yourself,” says Drolet, assistant professor of Plastic Surgery. “I think it’s very important to train physicians early about good behaviors and patterns to take care of themselves so that they can take care of patients well.”
Drolet helped to implement the vision of Scott Rodgers, MD, who was associate dean for Medical Student Affairs at the time.
“I can’t truly take that much credit for it,” he says. “I helped with the student side, as ‘boots on the ground.’”
But student involvement in and ownership of the wellness program distinguishes the VUSM program from those at other institutions and is likely a reason for its success, says Amy Fleming, MD, MHPE, associate dean for Medical Student Affairs.
“The wellness initiatives come from the students, not from someone telling them what they need in order to be well or balanced,” Fleming says.
Drolet watched the wellness program grow in its early years and is pleased that it is now embedded in the culture at VUSM.
“Being part of the culture is the primary success of the program; students realize that wellness is important,” he says.
The Student Wellness Program includes three core components: the Advisory College Program, the Student Wellness Committee and a series of Wellness Retreats.
The Advisory College Program places students into four learning communities — colleges named for former deans. Each college has two dedicated faculty mentors and multiple faculty affiliate advisers and student affiliate advisers (senior students selected for the role).
The colleges provide a structure for mentorship (from both faculty and peers), small group discussion and social connection. They build camaraderie among students across all four years, particularly when they join forces in the annual “College Cup,” an Olympic-style competition with athletic events, board game challenges and an iron chef-style competition among the events.
The Student Wellness Committee is student-run and includes five subcommittees that develop programs for body, mind, social, academic and community wellness. The wide variety of events offer a route to engagement for every student.
“Everyone has different ideas of what it is to be balanced and have well-being in their professional and personal lives,” Fleming says. “In considering all these different aspects of wellness, there will hopefully be events and programs that appeal to each individual.”
Wellness Retreats — one-day events that are built into the curriculum — include programming and small group discussions focused on issues related to the stage of training. First-year students discuss “surviving versus thriving;” second-year students focus on “motivated abilities” to help discover their passion in medicine; third-year students talk about resilience and tools for dealing with job stresses, and fourth-year students reflect on their time in medical school and write the oath they will take at graduation.
“What we’re doing this whole time — through the colleges, the wellness initiatives and the wellness retreats — is setting up relationships, among the students and between the students and the faculty,” Fleming says. “We try to make our community real and supportive, and I hope that’s helpful and protective for our students.”
“We’re doing all these things to support students, help them be well and to try to minimize the burnout that can start to happen in medical school,” Drolet says. “Other schools may have similar activities, but not all of them clearly identify those activities with wellness.
“It’s got to be front and center all the time, that wellness is as essential to the whole process of becoming a physician as anything else in medical school.”