Medical school is an exciting time of life. These four years represent not only a period of incredible academic and professional growth, but also a time for future physicians to investigate who they will become as human beings. It is potentially a sacred time of immense personal exploration, as students enhance their sense of self and discover their purpose in work and in life.
At the same time it can feel challenging or even overwhelming to cope with the new demands, long hours, and heavy study load. For many, medical school requires a level of independence that they have never experienced before. Coping skills utilized in undergraduate years may no longer be sufficient. Sometimes students believe that the only way to excel is to cut out all activities that take time away from studying, such as sleep, exercise, socializing, hobbies, and simply relaxing – even if these activities are crucial to maintaining health and joy.
What makes us different?
At the Keck School of Medicine, we believe that a physician is only able to care for others if they care for themselves first. We acknowledge the stress inherent in medical school and encourage a culture of compassion for self and others, with an emphasis on leading a balanced lifestyle. Our mission is that our array of wellness resources not only helps students thrive throughout their four years of medical school, but inspires them to become champions of physician well-being in their future endeavors. Our mission statement is below:
- Keck becomes a leader in the nation in student wellness by providing a safe, humane, and compassionate medical education experience that puts students first.
- Keck provides a cutting-edge, evidence-based, holistic wellness curriculum.
- Keck produces excellent future physicians by encouraging students to value taking care of themselves first.
- Keck acknowledges historical problems in the field of medicine including expectations of perfection, the culture of competition and hierarchy, higher rates of depression and anxiety in medical communities, and stigma in seeking mental health treatment. Keck sets standards for a new culture of vulnerability, kindness, and inclusion.
Foundations of Physician Resilience Curriculum
KSOM offers a required curricular thread containing 30 hours of content in Years 1-3 entitled Foundations of Physician Resilience. This content is integrated into the curriculum so it is not a burden on students to attend. Goals include:
- Goal 1: The student is committed to their health and well-being by tending to their physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and social well-being. The student recognizes the importance of their well-being and makes an effort to utilize personalized, ongoing, and flexible strategies that promote and maintain personal resiliency.
- Goal 2: The student expects and can manage the inherent stress of medical school. The student has an increased capacity to confront competing demands or adversity, with the ability to recover, reflect, and learn from difficult experiences.
- Goal 3: The student possesses ongoing self-awareness of the status of their own well-being. The student knows how to access support and resources when their levels of stress begin to impact their mood, professional development, care of patients, and/or colleagues in a negative manner. The student is comfortable accessing this support.
- Goal 4: The student has the skills and motivation to recognize, support, and intervene effectively with peers in need of emotional assistance.
- Goal 5: The student understands that both academic performance and clinical care are impacted by the well-being of the learner/practitioner.
- Goal 6: The student has a deeper knowledge of and sensitivity toward areas of well-being for which medical students and physicians are at special risk, including depression, anxiety, suicide, addiction, and poor sleep.
- Goal 7: The student is aware of tendencies and mindsets that are common in medical students, including impostor syndrome, reluctance to ask for help, procrastination, self-criticism, and self-neglect. The student works with these mindsets through strategies including mindfulness, cognitive restructuring, behavioral change techniques, and self-compassion.
Additional Wellness Resources for Students
- Director of Wellness and Assistant Director of Wellness, two in-house clinical psychologists available for mental health appointments.
- Free confidential therapy and psychiatric services at the student health center included in student health fee. Assistant Director of Wellness provides increased access to short-term psychotherapy in addition to the staff of counselors at the student health center. 24/7 afterhours crisis services available.
- Keck Checks, 15-minute mental health check-ins with a psychologist for each first year student. Additional 30-minute Keck Checks offered in Year 2 and Year 3.
- Keck Mental Health Survey, a yearly, online, comprehensive, and anonymous self-screening mental health survey for all students.
- Mental Health Awareness Month in March with “Mental Health Among Us” panel, where faculty and student panelists share their personal journeys with mental illness and seeking treatment.
- Wellness Rounds on clerkships, supportive and confidential one-hour groups led by a psychologist for clerkship students to connect with each other and discuss challenging experiences as they begin clinical work.
- Mandatory Wellness Days on clerkships: students get one full day off per 6-week clerkship and a half day off per 4-week clerkship to use for wellness as they see fit. Students are required to take their Wellness Days.
- Mindfulness meditation is a part of the culture at USC, reflected in the larger MindfulUSC Initiative. Specific resources for medical students include:
- Free drop-in mindfulness and mindful self-compassion classes, multiple times per week
- Free intensive six-week class series available at the student health center; online version also available
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) elective course offered in Year 2
- Free meditation app for use at home
- Occupational Therapy Lifestyle Redesign Program, a professional service covered by most student insurance plans that creates individualized behavioral plans for students to improve time management, self-care, and work-life balance
- Deans On Call service 24/7 – reach a dean any time you need to talk
- Key faculty members receive regular updates regarding the state of medical student well-being, and sensitivity training on how to identify and support students in emotional distress.
- A Wellness Task Force comprised of the wellness directors, key faculty members, and student representatives meets quarterly with the the aim of taking a fresh look at policies, procedures, curriculum, and “hidden curriculum” which may impact student well-being
- “Healer’s Art” elective course offered in Year 2
Social & Community Health
- Elected Student Wellness Representatives (2 per class) are given a yearly budget to plan and execute social events that suit every personality, with the goal of enhancing connection and community. Sample events have included:
- Pumpkin Carving contest at Halloween; Gingerbread House contest during winter holidays
- “Speed friending,” where students who do not know one another are provided with a subsidized coffee date or dinner to get to know one another
- Time Capsule art project, where Year 1 students write letters to themselves to be opened at graduation
- Fitness Team Competition, where students who do not know one another are put into teams and track their workouts
- Keck Peer Support (board of 4) runs a confidential, student-run group that trains students to become peer supporters, who provide one-on-one peer support, discussion groups on sensitive topics, study breaks with snacks and advice, meals for students held at faculty members’ houses, and a monthly email answering anonymous, candid student questions. Sample Keck Peer Support events have included:
- “Pomodoro” structured group study sessions infused with mindfulness and healthy snacks
- Watercolor paintings with coffee and bagels
- “Let’s Talk About It” lunchtime discussion groups to talk about challenging and meaningful topics in school and life
- “PostSecret” event where students share innermost secrets on anonymous postcards which are displayed in an art gallery
- Discussion group for students with illness anxiety
- Couples In Medicine student interest group for students with long-term partners, spouses, and/or children to connect and build community
- “Detour” student interest group for students who take non-traditional paths to graduation such as taking time off for academic, personal, or medical reasons
- Schwartz Rounds are held quarterly for all hospital staff to openly and honestly discuss emotional issues in caring for patients and families.
- HSC Recreation Center, a full service gym available free of charge with student health fee
- Currie Gym available at Currie Hall
- Free on-campus yoga classes, twice per week
- Free on-campus boot camp workout classes, once per week
- Free exercise balls, bike desks, and standing desks available for checkout while studying on campus
- Free live cooking workshops where students learn basic cooking skills and how to eat healthy on a budget
- Office of Religious Life offers community of spiritual reflection, open to students of all faith or no faith
- Student communities of various denominations host regular gatherings
- Workshops offered during Transition week and Intersession II to increase financial literacy and address the impact of indebtedness on specialty choice and lifestyle
- Free one-on-one financial counseling
- Academic Support Services provides specialized one-on-one academic coaching and peer-led review sessions.
- Years 1-2: Learning Communities. All first and second year students are placed in small learning communities to enhance long-term connection, comfort, and trust. Faculty mentors meet periodically with student groups to discuss a variety of professional and personal wellness topics.
- Year 3: Track Mentor Program. Students receive long-term, supportive contact with a faculty member and upperclassmen peer mentors, in the form of small group discussions approximately once per month throughout the third year. The nonevaluative, mentoring component of the relationship is emphasized.