Championing a healthy student experience

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Students at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry are usually so busy thinking about other people's health, they often overlook their own well-being. But in the midst of academic classes, clinical practice and extracurricular involvement, the Learner Equity & Wellness Office (LEW) steps in to build a healthy and successful educational environment.

The LEW is the result of a merger between Equity and Professionalism and Student Affairs, a venture that is now almost two years old. The office works to support the personal and professional health of Schulich Medicine & Dentistry learners, providing individual counselling and consultations for anything from managing stress to exam accommodation and equity concerns. Students needing support can seek out the LEW faculty and staff free of charge.

Dr. Terri Paul, associate dean, Learner Equity & Wellness, is focused on the long term overall health of students. "What we're seeing is the change from just being there to help support them through the academic piece to helping raise a whole generation of healthy physicians who can maintain a very active practice in a stressful environment," said Dr. Paul.

The Learner Equity & Wellness team is a dedicated group. Dr. Paul works closely with Pamela Bere, LEW manager, Dr. Michael Rieder and Dr. Donald Farquhar, assistant deans and Margaret Wegrzyn, administrative assistant. There is a strong presence at the Windsor Program as well. Dr. Art Kidd, assistant director and Michael Farquhar, student affairs officer bring the LEW to Windsor Program learners.

The office purposely operates as a stand-alone at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry to protect confidentiality, working through drop-ins and referrals. But faculty and staff work collaboratively with several other departments and groups at the School, as well as maintain relationships with Western central services and community professionals. Contact with learners is made frequently through the YouME blog. "It's a real spider web of support," said Dr. Paul.

Despite the availability of resources through Western, the unique experiences and complex programs at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry make the in-house office an important and empathetic resource. "Sometimes it just helps to have someone who speaks the language," said Bere. In 2011-12, close to 1,000 Schulich Medicine & Dentistry students used LEW services.

In addition to individual help and support, LEW organizes a number of programs and events for students throughout the year, such as a career series and presentations on the CaRMS process. The office also manages the MD convocation each spring as part of its portfolio.

Dr. Paul says the learners at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry keep the LEW faculty and staff enthusiastic and motivated about their roles. "It's always encouraging to see a new generation come through," she said.

It's a generation that faces a changing professional landscape for health professionals, one the LEW is helping guide students through. The message the office wants students to take away is that they're willing to help with any concerns or situations that may arise around personal health and learning. "We are open for business, we are here to help," said Bere. "I wouldn't want people to hide issues until they get to be big and hard to handle, if there's something that's a concern we want to help them along the way."

For more information about the Learner Equity and Wellness Office, visit their website or stop by their office in Kresge Bldg, Room K1 at Western and the main office at the Medical Education Building in Windsor.