LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Staying mentally and physically well in medical school and throughout their careers is a top concern for medical students.
“I think physician burnout is a looming fear that lingers over all medical students,” said Melinda Ruberg, a second-year student at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “We are looking for solutions early on as opposed to waiting until we are physicians and have a higher risk of burnout.”
Ruberg and classmates Matthew Neal, Anish Deshmukh and Katherine Yared have developed a model for medical schools to educate physicians in a way that improves their own health, enabling them to better treat their patients. The program, “Happy Healers, Healthy Humans: A wellness curricular model as a means of effecting cultural change, reducing burnout and improving patient outcomes,” received third place in the American Medical Association’s inaugural Medical Education Innovation Challenge. The award, announced earlier this week at the AMA Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium in Hershey, Pa., comes with a $1,000 prize.
The competition challenged medical student-led teams to develop a program to solve a problem in medical education. Entries consisted of a five-page paper and 90-second video, which were judged based on the proposed solution to the problem and the plan’s potential to improve medical practice and patient care.
Several aspects of the team’s plan to support a more compassionate approach to medical education already are in place at UofL, such as a student wellness committee, patient interview sessions for preclinical students, and faculty members who champion an environment of compassion as part of the school’s Compassion and Mindfulness Work Team. In addition, the student team suggested elements such as mutual accountability, health monitoring technology and the creation of wellness-oriented spaces in medical schools.
“A big part of our project was making wellness not something you do on the side, but institutionalizing it so it is more of a cultural shift and is fostered within the system,” Ruberg said.
The students’ plan expanded on programs they experienced at UofL and incorporated ideas based on each team member’s previous experiences, observations and research.
“We played to our strengths. We each contributed ideas we wanted to see in the paper,” Yared said. “A lot of the ideas stemmed from just brainstorming and how we see other people do things well.”
“We each contributed different things, but it was a beautifully collaborative thing,” Ruberg said.
To further their commitment to physician wellbeing, the students are working to bring an international compassion conference to Louisville. On a personal level, the project has inspired them to improve aspects of their own health. Neal has recommitted to daily meditation. Deshmukh has analyzed his study habits and begun to take a multivitamin. In addition, they would like to work with other UofL medical students to develop activities that encourage physicians to model healthy lives for their patients.
The AMA’s innovation challenge drew nearly 150 entries. A team from Vanderbilt University placed first for their plan to create an open national exchange for curricular content. A Sidney Kimmel Medical College team placed second, and a group from Midwestern University’s Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine tied with UofL for third.