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New Medical School Programs Help Students Battle Burnout

Wellness and social programs are aimed at helping med students achieve work-life balance.

Some medical schools are making extra efforts to help students prioritize their own wellness.
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About half of medical school students show the classic signs: emotional exhaustion, detachment and a feeling that one's efforts "don't make a difference," says Liselotte Dyrbye, associate professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic.

That's not good, as burnout, in turn, is linked to reduced altruism and unprofessional behavior, such as reporting a physical exam result as normal without actually doing it.

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"We're Type A personalities," says LaShon Sturgis, a fourth-year student at the Medical College of Georgia. "You really have to be encouraged to step back."

To be accredited, medical schools must have some kind of student wellness program. But many are going well beyond a regular aerobics class in their effort to get students to take a break and, yes, have a life. Sturgis says her school has assigned social chairs for each class, operates a wellness center and urges students to "do what we really enjoy — biking, hiking, reading."

[See why it's not too early to think about physician burnout.]

The Vanderbilt University School of Medicine has formed "fun fitness" athletic groups, offers an anonymous ask-the-psychiatrist online forum and has divided the student body into four "colleges" for advising purposes that compete annually in a two-day "College Cup" of Iron Chef, trivia and dance-off contests.

Mayo, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Virginia, among others, have switched to pass-fail grading in the first two years. At Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, which opened its doors in 2011, students meet in mentoring groups with faculty members for an hour every month to discuss such topics as managing stress and conflict and dealing with mistakes.

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To graduate, fourth-year students at New Jersey Medical School (which will be transferred to Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey in July) must complete a podcast-based course intended to ease the transition to residency. One podcast on burnout covers how to combat the physical aspects of stress, change the elements of scheduling that are possible to change and cultivate self-awareness.

The point, says Chantal Brazeau, an associate professor of psychiatry and family medicine who recorded the podcast, is to master the important skill of balance.

This story is excerpted from the U.S. News Best Graduate Schools 2014 guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings, and data.