Designing for health science education: fostering student well-being

Today, supporting the health and well-being of students and teachers is a major objective of most institutions. This is especially true in the health sciences, where the rapidly changing fields and increased understanding of the pressures facing students and faculty have led to calls for the complete transformation of health science education. .

Increase awareness of well-being among students and teachers

While Understanding Today’s Challenges and Pivoting into the Future of Healthcare provide a more in-depth analysis of healthcare sector transformation and health science education, here are some of the main ones. reasons for the increased emphasis on the well-being of students and faculty:

  • Early exposure to clinical situations: Students venture into different clinical locations earlier in their studies. They should discuss their experiences with each other and with faculty mentors, counselors and coaches in a safe space, and have the opportunity to relax and take care of their own physical, mental and emotional well-being.
  • Increased prevalence of depression affecting both students and patients: According to recent research, more than a quarter of medical students today face depression in addition to the stress of their studies. This psychological assessment also affects residents and fellows. In the AMA Journal of Ethics, Baker and Sen state: “… the literature has consistently shown a correlation between the degree of exhaustion, distress and fatigue and the frequency of perceived or self-reported medical errors, suggesting that these may not be – not just doctors. who pay the price, but so do their patients. 1
  • Focus within the healthcare industry: A precedent “Triple Objective” for the care of the patients involved: an ideal patient experience, at the lowest possible cost, while improving the health of the community. The new Quadruple Aim voiced by the American Medical Association adds a fourth element: the well-being of the healthcare team. This promising update recognizes the important principle long recognized by airlines (“put on your own mask before trying to help others”): To take care of others effectively, you must take care of yourself.

Awareness of these issues promotes a more student-centered attitude. Just as the student is taught that health care is patient-centered, administrators and faculty increasingly understand that health science education should be student-centered. Harvard Medical School Dean Jeffrey Flier addressed his revamped curriculum with the following message to his faculty:

  • Education is not about imparting information, it is about transforming learners.
  • Three things make a great clinical educator: Think out loud, stick to the basics, and be kind.
  • Teach our students as if we were teaching our own doctor. 2

Supportive environments for health science students and faculty

While the health and well-being of students and faculty should be a top priority in all spaces of educational institutions, we highlight some key considerations below.


Study area: A variety of spaces in the facility, some designed for working alone, others for working with study groups, should be included. These need to have adequate load and load capacity, and somewhere there should be an “open lab” capacity for students to work on clinical skills outside of class. These study spaces should be located throughout the campus and should have different atmospheres. The students are diverse, with different ways of learning. Some may need private “carrels” without distractions; others study best when they can sit outdoors at a table and see the traffic and activity around them.

photo of the Wittson Hall Library at the University of Nebraska Medical Center

Health Sciences Library: The library is changing massively from a book repository where calm is the ultimatum, to an active and engaging environment where librarians are information specialists whose mission is to help students in many ways. . The technology is rich, and the library often contains classrooms large enough for a faculty member to take a course in specialty medical technology. The library often contains a “creator space” or an experimental space with 3D printing, specialized imaging and copying, etc.

photo of the cafe at the Brendan Iribe Center at the University of Maryland

Food and drink: Health science students are awake and studying at all hours of the day. Often times, food and drink options are limited to times of the day, or healthy choices are not available. This is a recurring complaint from students in health science educational institutions. Healthy, convenient, inexpensive, around-the-clock food and drink options are increasingly seen as a necessity rather than a luxury.

photo of Valley Health System health and wellness center gymnasium

Health and wellness establishments: In addition to a student health clinic, fitness centers with showers, yoga / pilates and counseling facilities are conveniently co-located with the medical clinic so that they are easily accessible by students. Outdoor and indoor spaces where students can play sports and relax allow them to relax and take necessary breaks. It is well established that people are most productive when they can move away from an activity they have been concentrating on and then come back to it. Having a central entrance to mental health and physical health facilities helps eliminate the perception that seeking advice somehow involves weakness and creates the image that physical health and mental is important. If this co-location is not possible, ensuring that the facilities are located for easy access, even if they are separate, with positive and attractive features always helps to support the health and well-being of the students.

Houston Community College Coleman College Student waiting area with students seated at desks

Student services: Another important aspect of student life is the series of steps that must be taken to become a student at the institution. Creating a simple and clear message for applying, registering and visiting before acceptance can relieve stress for applicants. Once accepted, students need clear and simple instructions for paying tuition fees and other bills; ways to engage with other students at all stages of the program; and links to housing, places of worship, and student groups that support common interests and lifestyles. If students are to travel to a physical location to accomplish some of these tasks, clear instructions and appropriate staff for peak periods are essential. The more these services can be located in a “one stop shop” for students, the less likely they are to generate stress.

Vital achievements in neuroscience over the past thirty years and our increased understanding of physiological aspects of the brain have helped our understanding of how people learn. In addition, these neurological advances have shown us the crucial role that a good diet, sufficient physical activity and sleep have on our ability to concentrate and learn. Finally, understanding the adverse effects of stress on physical and mental health underscores the need for health care education programs to adapt to the information age and advances in medical technology. Health science schools that can create and update curricula to help students achieve this balance will produce healthy caregivers as well as lifelong learners.

A 2011 song by folk rock band Dawes says, “I want you to make the days easier. The health sciences are a very stressful field, and being trained to serve in this field has been and is a very stressful preparation arena. The more an educational institution can do to make their students’ days easier, the better their chances of success.

The references

  1. Baker, Kathryn and Srijan Sen. “The future of curative medicine: prioritizing the mental health of medical trainees”. WADA Ethics Review 18.6 (2016): 604.
  2. “The future is now: medical education for the 21st century. Harvard Medical School, September 25, 2015. Online seminar.