ChangeMedEd Initiative

Dedicated mentorship program supports med students

Troy Parks , News Writer

Mentorship can help medical students hone their clinical skills and improve their patient interactions, but mentors can also guide students through tough times both in school and their personal lives. Stanford has implemented a medical school mentorship program that builds a community atmosphere to support their students.

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Stanford University Medical Center in 2010 launched the Stanford Committee for Professional Satisfaction and Support to help physicians balance the increasing demands of practice environments. The guiding principle of the committee is that the professional fulfillment of clinicians is inextricably linked to quality, safety and patient-centeredness.

The medical school also recognized that it wasn’t just physicians in practice who needed support, but the medical students needed support thorughout their rigorous training as well. That’s why they implemented the Educators-4-Care program, which pairs five to six medical students with a faculty member who serves as teacher, mentor and colleague for the duration of their time at the school of medicine.

“It gives students a person to go to when they’re in stress because we really get to know the students well,” said Lars Osterberg, MD, associate professor of medicine at Stanford School of Medicine and director of the Educators-4-Care (E4C) program.

“It’s a deliberate mentoring … which gives them a more personalized and dedicated mentorship,” he said. “Unlike the old paradigm of med school where the students had to find a mentor on their own … because some students don’t always find the right person and don’t always have someone to reach out to.”

Stanford is part of the Learning Communities Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to improve health care education across the continuum of learning. The organization fosters scholarship, professional development and the centrality of relationships among learners and teachers as a way to promote compassionate, patient-centered care, physician well-being and lifelong learning.

Mentors guide students in clinical skills training and patient interactions, but they also check in with the students regularly to make sure they’re doing well personally, Dr. Osterberg said. “We have definitely noticed a change in the culture, our students are much stronger clinically … and they’ve dramatically improved since the inception of the E4C program.”

“We had a lot of students who ended up coming to us in the beginning of our program that we didn’t anticipate,” he said, “who had life events that occurred during medical school, that we think could have avoided some really bad things, like even possible suicide…. With the pressures of med school there is often depression, and the first person they’d go to is often the E4C faculty.”

Stanford measures aspects of their students’ wellness and empathy. “Students usually decline in their empathy skills during their clinical years,” he said. “[But] our students haven’t declined as they did in the past. We feel like the learning communities model really does fulfill that supportive role and is reflected in the students’ well-being.”

The program surveyed the faculty who are involved as mentors and the response was that being a mentor is very rewarding. “The faculty have commented that being involved as a mentor in the learning community motivated them to stay in academia and [continue to be] a mentor,” he said. “They love seeing their students grow and seeing that they are making a difference in students’ lives.”

“It also creates a community of other faculty of like-minded people that are trying to make a difference in medical education,” Dr. Osterberg said. “Part of every mentor’s conversation [with students] is just checking in to see how they are doing emotionally, mentally and physically.”

The Educators-4-Care program was highlighted in a module on preventing physician burnout from the AMA’s STEPS Forward™ collection of practice improvements initiatives. Other available modules on burnout cover preventing resident and fellow burnout and improving physician resiliency.

Thirty-five modules now are available in the STEPS Forward collection, and several more will be added later this year, thanks to a grant from and collaboration with the Transforming Clinical Practices Initiative.

Physicians and experts from around the world will gather Sept. 18-20 in Boston for the International Conference on Physician Health™. This collaborative conference of the AMA, the Canadian Medical Association and the British Medical Association will showcase research and perspectives into physicians’ health and offer practical, evidence-based skills and strategies to promote a healthier medical culture for physicians.

The conference also will include a panel highlighting innovative changes in American, British and Canadian medical school curricula and their potential to positively impact physician health in the future. Liselotte Dyrbye, MD, and William Tierney, MD, both representatives of the AMA’s Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium, will be panelists. Richard E. Hawkins, MD, vice president of medical education programs at the AMA, will moderate.

For more on how practices and organizations are preventing physician burnout: