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The Challenge

Coast to Coast bikerScope of the Problem and Related Challenges

Burnout can begin during medical training or even before. In a recent large study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, 53 percent of medical students had symptoms of burnout. This burnout was associated with self-reported unprofessional conduct and less altruistic professional values among medical students at the seven U.S. medical schools included in the study. The reasons behind burnout are many,but not least among them is the medical student’s tendency to accept the sacrifice of rigorous and extended training, denying their personal needs, such as sleep and exercise, to be of service as healers. Over time, such an attitude can take its toll in the form of exhaustion, social isolation, depression, substance abuse, and in the most extreme cases – suicide. These findings are indeed not unique to medical students. Students in any health profession graduate program face a risk of burnout and its potentially dire consequences.

Knowing that burnout is a significant problem, with some students being at higher risk than others, has led many medical schools to take serious preventive action in the form of development and implementation of wellness programming. It is the distinct role of our Student Wellness Committee, with the support of the SOM administration, to integrate student wellness programming as a crucial component of the new MDelta Curriculum. What we ideally strive to impart through a wellness curriculum is the promotion of a healthy lifestyle and resilient mindset that enables optimal learning and well-being in all aspects of life for every individual in our learning community.

Transforming good intentions into meaningful programming has proven difficult as there is far less literature on wellness programming for medical students than on the negative outcomes associated with poor student wellness. With this challenge in mind, a research endeavor co-sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the American Medical Student Association (AMSA), and Emory University, struck upon a novel approach: linking medical student wellness with the practice of preventive medicine.

At the cornerstone of the wellness curriculum rests the philosophy that to be a good healer the physician must first be well themselves. As an exploration of the recent literature supports, this mindset works to the benefit of physicians, patients, and the community. The result is a win-win – improved student well-being and strengthened belief in preventive medicine – by investing curricula and extracurricular resources in student wellness.

Programs related to student wellness often fail because students view them as outside of their curriculum or as an unrealistic addition to their already stretched-thin lives. This being the case, a program gains valuable student buy-in and simultaneously protects a student’s limited time if it is given the same curricular status as traditional coursework. It is notable that making the change to include wellness courses and activities in medical school curricula is a direction that has a wealth of support in the medical literature. It is the intention of our Student Wellness Committee to make this a reality.


Dyrbye LN, Massie FS, Eacker A, et al. Relationship between burnout and professional conduct and attitudes among U.S. medical students. JAMA. 2010; 304:1173-1180

Dyrbye LN, West CP, Satele D, et al. Burnout Among U.S. Medical Students, Residents, and Early Career Physicians Relative to the General U.S. Population. Academic Medicine. 2014; 89(3): 443-451.

Student Wellness Committee Charter 2016-2017. Vanderbilt Wellness. Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. pp. 3-4.