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Room to Breathe

Posted on August 29, 2018
MD Student Wellness

Promoting Medical Student Wellness at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine

Two new wellness rooms at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine are offering students and learners a space to help them cope with the day-to-day stresses of academics as well as home and family life. “When you go into medicine, there are rewards, but there are also occupational hazards,” says Cathy Schroeder, Senior Learner Affairs Officer at NOSM.

“Students may have dealt with or seen things that have affected them, or they could be feeling burned out from a combination of academics, clinical and volunteer work.” This includes burnout, depression, and anxiety. She says the rooms are part of the NOSM Learner Affairs Unit’s ongoing strategy to promote overall health and wellness among medical students.

“It is really important to have a space for students that puts wellness at the forefront,” she says. “When your job is caring for others, it can be emotionally draining and very tough mentally. The whole field of medicine is dealing with this issue, and we want to show students it’s okay to be having conversations about personal wellness and mental health; they need to take care of themselves and their colleagues.”

There is one wellness room in each of the two NOSM medical school buildings. Existing office space was converted to student wellness space with the help of a generous donation to the School. Both rooms have a reclining chair, which can be sectioned off by a curtain for privacy, a small table and chairs, a phone, a fridge and a small open space where students can practice yoga or mindful meditation. They also offer a private, comfortable space for learners who are breastfeeding.

“We’ve had a number of learners who are nursing mothers, and we’re happy that the wellness rooms offer a comfortable space to pump, or to breastfeed if they have their child on campus with them,” says Schroeder. “Wellness is broad, and we wanted to take a holistic approach so that these rooms cater to a wide range of needs.” Clare Shields, the donor who funded the two rooms, says she wanted to focus on student wellness because it’s an underserviced area for medical students, as well as those studying other health professions.

“In medicine, we tend to look at the patient, and focus on making them well and offering them the support they need, but we don’t typically offer that same support to our colleagues,” says Shields. Shields, a former nurse whose late husband was a doctor and practiced in the Sudbury area, says she saw firsthand throughout her career and her marriage how little support there was for healthcare professionals who were struggling with the stresses of their jobs. “My hope is that these rooms give students the space they need to take a step back when they are feeling overwhelmed, as well as provide the necessary tools to cope in a healthy way with the stress of being a health-care provider and student,” she says.

She says that supporting mental health and overall wellness among healthcare professionals also serves as a contribution to the community. “At the end of the day, if doctors and other health-care providers are healthy, they can provide better care for their patients,” says Shields.

Read more stories like this in the latest issue of Northern Passages.