Illinois Medicine

Vol. 21 - Spring 2018

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I 12 | S P R I N G 2 0 1 8 It's three months into Aisha Bhatti's first year at the College of Medicine's Rockford campus. But Bhatti isn't in class or hitting the books at the moment. Surrounded by a handful of other medical students seeking a temporary respite from the rigors of preclinical coursework, she's dipping her brush into a vivid green glob of paint and dabbing it onto the nature scene taking shape on her canvas. Totally absorbed in the act of creation, she hasn't thought about her upcoming block exam for a full 45 minutes. "I have a background in art, so I was excited when I first heard about these art therapy workshops," recalls the 23-year-old Glenview native a few months later. "Of course, like every other medical student, my first thought was, 'I should study instead.' But I decided to go for it, and I was so glad that I did. I came out of that workshop feeling relaxed and happy. It was very cathartic to use a different part of my brain." Bhatti's art therapy experience is just one of the new programs designed to foster medical student resilience and well-being at the COM's Chicago, Peoria and Rockford medical campuses. It's also a sign of the changing culture of medical education as the University of Illinois and other top schools mobilize to address medical student stress, depression and burnout. Although the depression rate for students entering medical school is roughly comparable to that of their nonmedical peers, the prevalence of depression increases disproportionately among medical students over the course of their education and training, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. A Mayo Clinic study of more than 4,200 students at seven U.S. medical schools found that roughly half (49.6 percent) of medical students were suffering from burnout, and 11.2 percent had experienced suicidal ideation within the past year. The COM has concluded that medical students need the tools to heal themselves as they prepare for a lifetime of caring for others. Educational evolution IN 2015, THEN-COM EXECUTIVE DEAN DIMITRI AZAR, MD, MBA, invited administrative leaders, faculty, staff and students across the college's campuses to brainstorm how to change the culture of medical education to support higher levels of student well-being and resilience. It was a synergistic moment to initiate such a conversation. Raymond Curry, MD, FACP, senior associate dean for educational affairs, had just launched the college's first curriculum redesign in more than three decades. "We believe that our students should thrive, not just survive," says Abbas Hyderi, MD '01, MPH, associate dean for curriculum. "Our objectives were to promote individual well-being while sustaining academic performance; address student anxiety, depression and burnout; and train future physicians to serve as role models while supporting the well-being of their patients and peers." Geri Fox, MD '83, MHPE '04, associate dean for wellness and resilience, studied medical student well-being and mapped out a robust wellness curricular approach that would help students manage the demands of medical school while taking better care of themselves. This undertaking would lead Fox, a professor of clinical psychiatry, and the members of the Task Force on Student Well-Being and Resilience deep into the inner workings of the medical student psyche. They explored the debilitating effects of fatigue and social isolation, the divisive nature of a competitive class ranking system, and the feelings of futility and burnout arising from the preclinical firehose of information students must master. "Our overall goal as we mapped out this curricular approach was to help medical students learn how to help themselves and their by Susan Reich holistic medical education A Curricular Prescription for WELL-BEING As the College of Medicine rolls out its innovative new curriculum, first-year students are already reaping the benefits of a wellness-oriented approach to medical education RIGHT: Although she keeps her nose to the medical school grindstone most of the time, student Aisha Bhatti has found short breaks for wellness activities like art therapy workshops to be reinvigorating both personally and academically. P H O T O : L L O Y D D E G R A N E

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