Medical school is known to be a time of high stress for aspiring physicians. When students are applying to medical school, it is important to consider the support systems the medical school can provide. By understanding the amount of support available, students will be able to determine whether a school is an appropriate fit for them based on their personal needs. Below is a list of questions you can ask during your interview to determine how a medical school prioritizes the health and wellness of its students.
- What organizations are available to help students connect with like-minded peers?
During medical school, many students face the challenges of adjusting to a new city, being away from friends and family, and managing a heavy workload. Having a support system can make all the difference in a smooth transition to medical school. Student organizations — such as a Black student association, an LGBTQIA+ organization, an intramural sports league, or a book club — can provide students with a support system where they are able to decompress and reset. It is important for students to have access to healthy outlets during their medical training.
- Can you give an example of how you’ve enhanced your wellness program based on student feedback?
A medical school’s ability to accept and incorporate student feedback is a key consideration for any wellness program. Applicants will also be able to gain insight into the faculty-student relationship based on the feedback given by the students and the responsiveness of the faculty and administration.
- Are there formal mentorship opportunities for students to receive a mentor and be a mentor?
Medical school can be a difficult and demanding time for future health care professionals. Therefore, the need for a mentor and the need to mentor are inextricably tied to the medical education process. While many students develop a mentor relationship with their professors or peers on their own, the institution itself may offer the opportunity to pair mentors and proteges. Discussing the mentorship opportunities available at the institution can demonstrate a willingness to learn from others as well as a willingness to give back. Mentor relationships can also be a boost to mental health: Research indicates that mentored students rate their overall well-being higher compared to those who did not have a mentor.
- What is campus life like?
This question can be directed toward an interviewer who is also a medical student. They will be in the best position to provide information about the student body and the social aspects of the campus and local area. Expressing interest in campus life can demonstrate a willingness to be part of the school’s community — which is a strong quality to display when interviewing with a medical school.
- How do you help students prevent burnout?
Acknowledging the heavy workload of medical school and the potential stressors of being far away from friends, family, and a support system is the first step to preventing burnout. First- and second-year medical students often struggle to distinguish between normal amounts of stress and other mental health conditions. It is important to ask how the medical school will assist students as they go through this extensive training process. A few examples of how medical schools address wellness include incorporating wellness discussions into orientation, organizing wellness retreats, offering free counseling services, organizing self-care events, and more.
- How do you identify and assist struggling students?
For students who may be struggling emotionally or academically, the medical school may have a system of identifying at-risk students so they can assist them accordingly. Given the stigma surrounding mental illness and seeking therapy, many medical students are not comfortable seeking support for mental health. This stigma can also affect students seeking resources from their own institutions. Because students may not voluntarily communicate their needs to the medical school, it is useful for a school to identify the students’ needs and proactively address them.
- What is the student participation rate for your well-being resources?
The participation rate of a medical school’s wellness resources may offer insight into how effective students perceive the programs to be — as well as how accessible they are. Students may be more likely to participate in mental health services if they believe that the school’s resources will improve their well-being and create a nurturing learning environment. High levels of participation can also help students learn from each other and may lead to smaller informal networks of support.
- What resources are available to medical students experiencing a mental health crisis?
Mental health is a combination of emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Each component can affect the productiveness and task management of a student, which are important skills that will be used continuously throughout medical school. Given this information, a mental health crisis may impact a student’s academic performance. Knowledge of the resources available during such a crisis can assist students throughout medical school.
As a future physician, I believe a knowledge of the available wellness resources at my prospective medical schools may mitigate mental health crisis, stress, and burnout throughout my medical education.
by Alexzander Ballard, Morehouse School of Medicine medical student and former AAMC student affairs and programs intern