Help Yourself to Help Others

Aug 16, 2017

Professor Patricia HoustonProfessor Patricia Houston Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.

These are words penned by writer and social gerontologist Eleanor Brownn. It’s a sentiment that rings true for people caring for loved ones or helping others solve problems. It also resonates in medical education. 

We strive to provide the best learning environment possible for students. That means more than ensuring they know about health and disease through the life cycle and how to perform a physical exam. It also means making sure we’re supporting their wellbeing and success. 

As we embark upon a new academic year, we’re also marking an important milestone for the new Foundations Curriculum: the launch of the program’s second year. It will build upon the integrated learning and clinical content we introduced in the initial 36 weeks of the program. 

We’re also continuing to expand the resilience curriculum we introduced to our first-year students last fall. Cognitive reframing, self-compassion and mindfulness are just a few of the tools we hope will help our future doctors manage stress, protect themselves against burnout and reduce the stigma often associated with asking for help.

This year, we’re adopting a new, formative approach to assessment of professionalism, one of the competencies outlined in the CanMEDS Physician Competency Framework. In helping students develop their own professional identities, we want to connect with them in constructive ways. Being a professional is a life long learning experience.

As part of the new curriculum, we’re intervening earlier to offer formative assistance for students as they learn the competencies needed to be a member of a health care team. We will identify issues early on and provide personalized education on professional conduct and give opportunities for faculty and students to discuss the behaviour in question and develop strategies for improvement.

Additionally, we now have multiple assessment points to help our students address any academic difficulties they may experience. We’re shifting the focus from assessing students’ learning to performing assessments to support their learning. By using formative feedback and personalized learning plans when challenges arise, we can help ensure students reach their potential. 

We’re also working to help students achieve work-life balance. In addition to offering a week’s break in the middle of first and second terms, our students are now able to schedule three days of personal time during the academic year without question. Through this, we want to empower students to take control of their time to harmonize their academic responsibilities with other personal priorities and life events.

Medical school is well known to be challenging and filled with stressors, which makes integrating a culture of wellness and resilience so important. I’m so proud of the work our MD Program team has done to bring in and embrace these changes. 

I would like to thank Professors Marcus Law, Director of Foundations and Pier Bryden, Preclerkship Director who led the curriculum renewal process as well as Professors Richard Pittini, Director of Assessments and Evaluations and Glendon Tait, Director of Student Assessment who have helped usher in the new model of evaluation. The entire MD Program team is committed to excellence in curricular innovation and student experience. There is still much to do.

As we prepare our students to become the next generation of leaders in the health sciences, we need to make sure we give them space to take care of themselves so that one day, they can help others. 

Patricia Houston
Vice Dean, MD Program
Faculty of Medicine
 

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