Why Wellness?

Older physicians humor us with war stories of the infamous 48-hour call shifts, burnout as a casual by-product of being a physician, and the unbridled sentiment that our generation values lifestyle above all. In the last decade, there has been a cultural shift promoting the ideology of physician, heal thyself. But where do we as medical students fit into this paradigm? 

Teaching wellness is part of accreditation criteria for both undergraduate and postgraduate medical curriculum. But is it enough to have classes on mental, physical, and financial well-being? In speaking with my colleagues, there is an overwhelming sentiment that we won’t be facing the trials and tribulations of being a physician for many year…but is that really true? Recent data on clerkship well-being is alarming. The Federation Médicale Étudiante du Québec (FMEQ) surveyed Quebec clerkship students on their wellness and found that: 

  • 49.1% somewhat or completely agreed with the statement that “my studies are having a negative impact on other areas of my life” 
  • 17.4% of students cried every month, 3% cried every day 
  • 3.4% have been diagnosed with depression
  • 55.5% of students had questioned their career choice 
  • 17.5% had considered suicide (6 students had a specific plan; 2 students had attempted suicide)

Regardless of the differences between the Quebec and Ontario teaching environments, these numbers were surprising to me. These trends follow us from medical school to residency and eventually into practice. The Happy docs study by the Canadian Association of Interns and Residents (Cohen et al., 2008) found:

33% of residents reported their life as “quite a bit” to “extremely” stressful 
17% of residents coped with their stress through alcohol 
23% of residents would pursue another career if they could

And, data from the Canadian Physicians Health Survey (2008) and CMA study on Physician Burnout (2003) found: 

Nearly ¼ physician (29% female, 20% male) reported feeling “sad, blue, or depressed” for a period of at least 2 consecutive weeks in the previous week (almost quadruple the amount in the 2002 Canadian Community Health Survey)

45.7% of Canadian physicians were found to be in advanced stages of burnout

These four studies show a culture of unwell physicians. When I ask where medical students fit into the shifting paradigm of physician wellness, the answer is obvious: at every step. Medical students who value wellness and promote it to their peers will develop good habits, which will follow them throughout their careers. I know that each of my classmates has a different means to achieving personal wellness – whether it’s going to the gym, cooking, blogging about their clerkship stories, or debriefing with friends. Regardless of how we achieve it, there is a general consensus that we have chosen a stressful career path, which mandates we take care of ourselves to take better care of our patients. I hope this blog post and data remind you of the importance of maintaining your own personal wellness, and encourage you to post with how you achieve wellness in your day to day activities. 

Soniya S. (Queen's University)