New wellness training curriculum for students prioritizes mental health


By: Brianna Robinson

As students across Michigan and the nation begin to make their way through another year of medical school, many of these aspiring future physicians are already experiencing higher levels of exhaustion and stress as they deal with everyday life during a national pandemic. As a result, the risk of burnout and depression is proving to be high.

According to national statistics, between 40% to 75% of healthcare trainees and professionals in the United States are experiencing Burnout Syndrome, a serious health issue that can have personal, professional and patient-related consequences.

John Taylor, director of wellness and counseling services, and Katherine Ruger, associate dean of admissions and student life, both in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, recognized the need to prepare students to manage burnout and began exploring options to equip them.

After much research, they enlisted the help of CaseNetwork, a company that specializes in programming that helps increase resiliency and well-being, while reducing burnout, depression and anxiety among residents and medical students.

“I've been here almost four years and had looked at other programs, but never found anything quite like this,” Taylor said. “The program has been met with great enthusiasm by our college leadership, too.”  

CoreWellness is an online training curriculum designed by physicians where medical students and residents complete highly interactive, 25-minute educational modules in preparation for in-class topic discussions facilitated by College of Osteopathic Medicine faculty.

In addition to Taylor and Ruger, the college’s Integrated Wellness Curriculum team also consists of faculty members Carrie Nazaroff, Graham Atkin, J’Aimee Lippert, Mary Kay Smith and Pauline Tobias, in addition to six, second-year student ambassadors.

“It’s very sad that mental health is often viewed as, not real, taboo or something separate from the rest of your health and well-being,” Lippert said, who is the pre-clerkship director of osteopathic principles and practice in the college. “But it's not. It's part of who we are and as osteopaths, we believe in the unity of the human being, mind, body and spirit. I really feel good about our college putting this forward because that's exactly it.”

So far, participating students have covered three of the program modules in a virtual setting. Topics have ranged from a general introduction to the program to discussions about the prevalence of burnout and the eight dimensions of wellness and resilience. 

Meeting twice a week, students have worked to complete independent study portions of the modules before participating in the online class discussions facilitated by Lippert, members of the curriculum team, and student ambassadors Naveen Multani, Nicolas Diloreto, Raana Ali, Serena Soleimani, Cassie Larrivee and Jacob Mallad.

“These student ambassadors are the highlight of these discussions, sharing personal experiences related to the given module,” Lippert said.

With more than 217 osteopathic medical students interacting in the modules since July, feedback has been positive.

“I really love the program,” said Michael Naddaf, a first-year medical student in the College of Osteopathic Medicine. “It feels nice to have an entire learning module that helps you remember to prioritize mental health.”

“What's nice about CoreWellness is that it’s tailored for medical students and residents,” added Serena Soleimani, a second-year student ambassador. “Medicine is well-known for being a demanding field so it’s important for students to not only be equipped with medical knowledge but also a good mental health foundation so that they can be resilient during their career. As future doctors, we want to serve as role models of both physical and mental health for the community.”

Lippert believes that healthier communities and patients are ultimately a result of healthier physicians.

“It would be great to see the class of 2024 from our college start to propagate this change.”

After the summer semester, students will have an additional 16 modules to complete during their pre-clerkships and will revisit concepts during their clerkship curriculums.

“Our hope is that as the Class of 2024 and those students who come after, complete the training and as they move to clerkship and beyond, they will have an increased sense of durability and agility to weather inevitable challenges while maintaining their vitality and sense of purpose as doctors,” Taylor said. “As the program evolves, we see the potential to align with several other college initiatives that will help improve efforts around culture, diversity and inclusion, recruitment, performance and retention, and scholarly activities.”