Massages, Meditation, and Therapy Dogs Highlight Student Wellness Week

Medical students were smiling, laughing, squealing, and taking dozens of pictures as they opened the doors to the student lounge in the Rosenstiel Medical Science Building last Thursday and were greeted by the adorable, sociable therapy dogs that visited for the first Miller School of Medicine Student Wellness Week.

Second-year M.D./M.P.H. student Camille Scott bonds with her new friend Alfalfa.

“This is magical!” more than one student gushed as they reached down to pet, scratch and snuggle with the dogs.

“I’m so happy this could happen,” said Camille Scott, a second-year M.D./M.P.H. student and one of the chairs of the Wellness Week Committee. “We want to make sure we have a culture that it’s OK to take a break, it’s OK to take care of yourself. And we’re taking care of each other.”

Other highlights of the wellness week included back massages, meditation, a scavenger hunt, a mental health awareness student panel, and an “affirmation board” on the first floor of the Calder Library, where people are posting words of encouragement, quotes and pictures.

Andrew Stine-Rowe, a second-year M.D./M.P.H. student who is chair of the new Wellness Advisory Council, said the wellness week and other initiatives grew out of feedback from students seeking improvements in the health care of the student body.

“If you look nationally, medical students tend to have a higher burden of mental health challenges than our peers,” Stine-Rowe said. “I joined this project because it’s the community we’re part of, and there are a lot of times when students might be going through a difficult time. It’s very motivating to me, especially when I think about our future patients. We need to have the skills to navigate a career taking care of ourselves, to be the best physicians we can be.”

One of the most enthusiastic participants in the pet therapy session was Hilit Mechaber, M.D., associate dean for student services, who is also very enthusiastic about the Wellness Advisory Council and wellness week. “This will become a marquee event,” she said.

Dr. Hilit Mechaber and students get to know Alfalfa.

“It’s been a wonderful culmination of student creativity and leadership, highlighting the numerous student organizations working toward enhancing the experience for our students across domains of well-being, including mind, social, body, academic and professional development, and service and community,” Mechaber said.

“This is only the beginning of our new Wellness Advisory Council’s impact, and we strive for a growing focus on our students’ wellness as we all grapple with the challenges affecting medical students, trainees and physicians.”

Stine-Rowe pointed to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed the overall prevalence of depression or depressive symptoms among medical students was 27.2 percent – higher than in the general population – and the overall prevalence of suicidal ideation was 11.1 percent. Among medical students who screened positive for depression, 15.7 percent sought psychiatric treatment.

These numbers underscore “the need for effective preventive efforts and increased access to care for medical students,” the study concluded. Mechaber said the Miller School has worked hard to meet that need, increasing students’ awareness of and access to mental health care.

“The whole purpose of wellness week is to show people a little bit of what we have to offer,” said Scott. “It’s a good way to get the larger community engaged.”

As Passion, a particularly irresistible therapy dog, jumped onto a table in the student lounge, Stine-Rowe rubbed her back and said, “This is amazing. I don’t think we’ve ever had anything like this at our school.”