While there are ‘hopeful signs’ that both morale and culture have improved following the WA Department of Health’s introduction of a variety of health and wellbeing initiatives for Doctors in Training (DiTs), results of a recent national Preparedness for Internship survey highlighted the need for greater support for medical students.
Most of the 658 interns who responded to The Australian Medical Council and the Medical Board of Australia survey did not think that medical school had prepared them well for issues such as seeking support for psychological distress, bullying and harassment or raising concerns about colleagues who were distressed and not performing.
Five years ago, the School of Medicine at the University of Notre Dame Australia (Fremantle) identified the need for a formal program designed to help first year medical students manage stress, improve wellbeing, enhance communication and relationships and maximise productivity.
While Notre Dame has always had a specific focus on pastoral care, the increasing demands on medical students required a more formal approach and we initiated development of a health and wellness program – in consultation with Monash University’s Dr Craig Hassed.
Known as ESSENCE +, it is based on seven health pillars – Education, Stress Management, Spirituality, Exercise, Nutrition, Connectivity and Environment with a plus sign that expresses Emotional Intelligence.
The model is based on two-hourly sessions each week over an eight-week period, a series of small group sessions integrated into the medical curriculum. In addition to group facilitated discussion, the health and wellness programme is summatively assessed through focused assignment and short answer questions.
Extensive training has been completed to ensure the effectiveness of the program, with 13 tutors required to facilitate and direct the sessions. A central component of the course is a focus on mindfulness and its application to student study stresses and future clinical patient treatment
Evaluation and research has been undertaken consistently over the life of the program with a number of our Personal and Professional Development (PPD) and research staff presenting at national and international conferences.
Importantly, such health and wellness initiatives will be extended into the clinical years, and the school looks forward to playing a meaningful role in further improving morale and culture and supporting the health and wellbeing of our graduates.