Helping Students Decompress:
The Wellness Council

Students unwind, clockwise from top: a hike in Wyoming; pumpkin-carving with Eddie Chiou in Spokane; yoga in Spokane; climbing in Seattle.
Images courtesy of: David Wilson, Averyl Shindruk, Shawn Brou and Kelli Hicks

When you think of a day in the life of a medical-school student, what comes to mind? Perhaps nights spent poring over textbooks, hectic days seeing patients on clinical rotations and long hours in the gross anatomy lab. However, the Wellness Council, a student-run group at the UW School of Medicine, is transforming this image by advocating for more balance in students’ lives, a useful value for students and graduates alike.

“The goal of the Wellness Council is to teach students resiliency skills to prevent burnout,” says Emily Slager, the School’s associate director of student affairs, foundations phase.

Wellness has long been a priority for the UW School of Medicine, and in 2013, when the School adopted a more student-directed approach to it, the Wellness Council was born. Each WWAMI site elects one or more student representatives who plan activities that cultivate social, mental and physical well-being for the student body.

“The reps have come up with some very creative ways to support the students,” Slager says. Events, intended to help students unwind or plan for their future, have included indoor rock climbing, knitting, multicultural potlucks, a lazy IRONMAN triathlon and panel discussions. The group has also purchased items, like foam rollers and stand desks, that improve physical health and comfort.

In addition to prioritizing student health, the Wellness Council offers financial support for activities through its mini-grant program. David Wilson, a first-year student and the Wellness Council representative in Wyoming, has used the program to help fund snowshoeing excursions and social events like “med prom” night. “They’re a springboard for learning how to deal with stressful aspects of med school,” he says.

Like Wilson, Averyl Shindruk and Caitlin Crimp, first-year students and Wellness Council representatives in Spokane, utilized the mini-grant program to organize a pumpkin-carving night and weekly yoga and mindfulness classes. Shindruk feels these activities are important for bonding and vital for success in the classroom.

“Part of being a good teammate is knowing who you’re working with — knowing each other as complete human beings, not just as medical students,” Shindruk says.

In order for students to practice wellness and build community, they must have the time to do it. The design of the new curriculum strives to provide it. In-class time has been reduced from eight to four hours a day, four days a week. And while students in flipped classrooms must spend a significant amount of time preparing for the next day’s class, they have more freedom to personalize their schedules.

“The new curriculum puts us in a better position to balance our lives, to allocate time and energy where we need it,” says Wilson.

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