Future Wellness Starts Now

Feb 12, 2020

Natalie Phung and Anna Chen, who helped launch a new wellness ambassadors program for medical students Natalie Phung and Anna Chen, who helped launch a new wellness ambassadors program for medical students 
As medical and allied health professional learners, we encountered an environment that emphasized a “stay strong and carry on” mentality. Were the days long? Yes; accept it. Did work come before personal commitments? Yes; adapt to it. Was there burnout? Yes; adjust to it.

We know that is not unique. Students in all disciplines and programs have encountered variations on this theme — accept, adapt, adjust. However, longitudinal studies and personal anecdotal observations tell us that the expectations set during a student’s training too soon become the norms of their professional life (next month’s MedEmail will focus on faculty and staff wellness, so more will be said on this point later).

Burnout and wellness among healthcare professionals and researchers are pressing concerns. We have seen government organizations and professional associations confront these issues. Our early efforts have focused on the notion of individual resiliency, and although well intentioned, they don’t address systemic issues that are often the cause of stresses and strain. If we want to advance best practices for the future, we need to deliver support for learners today. And ultimately, it must be through a holistic approach that ensures wellness is embraced both by individuals and systems.

As you may know, the University of Toronto recently accepted the recommendations of the Task Force on Student Mental Health, which was led by Faculty of Medicine Dean Trevor Young. The recommendations include a partnership with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, an institution affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine. The University has also launched My Student Support Program (My SSP), which provides registered University of Toronto students with immediate and/or ongoing confidential, 24-hour support. The PARO 24 Hour Helpline is available to residents, their partners and family members, as well as medical students.

Within the Faculty of Medicine, the notion of wellness is embedded in the Faculty’s commitment to optimizing the learning environment. We recognize that wellness is part of a continuum that also includes respect and professional values, and that is enabled by clear policies and procedures. We are working to address these issues, along with our TAHSN partners, and you will soon see new initiatives responding to this imperative.

We also want to ensure there is an ongoing dialogue about wellness in the Faculty. To that end, we have launched #WellnessWednesday, which utilizes the Faculty’s social media channels and MedEmail to deliver timely reminders about the resources available to support members of our community. And, we are devising new communication strategies to promote the services offered by the Office of Health Professions Student Affairs (for MD Program, MD/PhD, Medical Radiation Sciences, Physician Assistant, and Occupational Therapy students), the Postgraduate Wellness Office (for Post MD learners), and Student Health and Wellness (for graduate students).

If we improve learner wellness today, we can improve the wellness of healthcare professionals and researchers tomorrow. We hope you will join with us to ensure the Faculty of Medicine doesn’t call on learners to accept, adapt, and adjust — but instead, ensures we model wellbeing and support for each other.


Antonio Pignatiello
Associate Dean, Office of Health Professions Student Affairs
MD Program

Julie Maggi
Director, Postgraduate Wellness Office
Heather Flett
Associate Director, Postgraduate Wellness Office
Post MD Education

Allan Kaplan
Vice Dean, Graduate and Academic Affairs
Faculty of Medicine


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