July 21, 2022

For better doctors, start with healthier medical students

At our school of medicine, future doctors learn that to better treat patients they need to focus on their own physical and mental health.

The Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine provides programs and resources to help students avoid burnout and support their overall well-being.

Medical school is exciting and challenging. But it can also be stressful.

Add in a global pandemic compounded by recent incidents of racial injustice and growing financial worries and rates of burnout, anxiety, and depression can soar.

“It’s widely known that physicians and medical students are at increased risk for burnout, depression, and suicide [compared with] the general population,” said Ashwini Lal, PsyD, lead clinical psychologist at the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine.

But the new class of students entering Kaiser Permanente’s medical school on July 25, 2022, won’t be left to learn how to cope on their own.

These future physicians are joining a supportive community of teachers, clinicians, and classmates, and they’ll have access to many opportunities and resources to learn how to avoid burnout and build resilience.

Navigating student life

One key way our medical school helps students is with a well-being program called REACH, an acronym for reflection, education, assessment, coaching, and health and well-being.

REACH encourages students to take care of their physical and mental health. They also gain resiliency and problem-solving skills that will allow them to better care for themselves and their patients in the future.

The program pairs each student with a coach, and they meet one-on-one throughout the year. REACH coaches also lead 6-person student groups that convene during a “REACH week” every quarter to build community, increase students’ sense of belonging, and explore issues related to advocacy, equity, inclusion, and diversity.

“We don't expect students to navigate life by themselves,” said Anne Eacker, MD, senior associate dean for student affairs. “We want to create an inclusive community where everyone feels like they can reach out for help.”

REACH week activities include healthy cooking classes in the school’s teaching kitchen, well-being discussions with a weekly theme, fitness classes, and more.

“We have designed programs that show exercise and nutrition can be about fun and social connections in addition to health,” said Andrew Gallardo, fitness program manager.

Discovering well-being together

Other wellness resources include private fitness consultations and student-led exercise classes. Students also have access to fitness equipment, a yoga studio, meditation space, and healthy food options. Workshops on how to manage stress and anxiety about tests are held regularly.

Mental health support is also available through Student Psychological Services, and many students have utilized the school’s therapy services.

“It has been evident to us that the students bring with them a tremendous amount of resiliency and grit,” said Juan Carlos Zuberbuhler, MD, assistant professor of clinical science. “We’re not teaching well-being — we are discovering it together and building upon the wisdom of each other.”

Learn more about the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine.