6 Signs of a Compassionate Medical School
MEDICINE IS A challenging career path, but being miserable during medical school isn’t a necessary first step. A school’s culture is an often overlooked factor in student success, recent medical school graduates say.
Dr. James Martin, a 2016 graduate of Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine, says he is glad he chose a medical school with a collaborative school culture.
“I went to a school where everyone was nice to each other and everyone was supportive,” he says.
Here are six traits that experts say define a compassionate medical school.
One study of medical students in developed countries, including the U.S. and Canada, reveals that a majority of students – 59.4 percent – had experienced harassment during their medical training. Most of the reported harassment – 63 percent – involved verbal insults.
“I think the best way for medical students to figure out if a medical school has the right culture is for them to visit the school and talk to the medical students,” says Dr. Georgette Dent, associate dean for student affairs at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill School of Medicine. She says good medical schools are “vigilant” about enforcing anti-harassment policies, and that the best way to figure out if a school promotes civility is to ask students about how supportive their school was.
2. Wellness initiatives
Medical school is hard enough, even with abundant emotional support, so a school that provides support is a good option, medical school officials say.
Nancy Harazduk, director of the Mind-Body Medicine Program at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, says group therapy and meditation classes have increased morale at Georgetown.
“You need to take care of yourself before you take care of others,” she says.
3. Meaningful accommodations for disadvantaged students
Experts say medical school applicants should look for schools that are inclusive of students with disabilities and students with families.
In general, U.S. medical schools have a lackluster record when it comes to integrating medical students with disabilities.
A study showed that the non-academic admissions standards that medical schools use to determine whether prospective students have the physical stamina and emotional stability necessary to be a doctor often lack clarity about what accommodations, if any, will be made for students with disabilities. The study reveals that a majority of U.S. medical schools – 61 percent – have admissions standards that appear to exclude disabled applicants.
Dr. Philip Zazove, the study’s lead author and chair of family medicine at the Medical School at University of Michigan, says students with disabilities should look for medical schools with a track record of educating students with disabilities, and that the best way to identify inclusive schools is through conversations with others in the disabled community and school officials.
Medical students who are parents should look for schools with flexible schedules, according to Dr. Terry Kind, assistant dean of clinical education and associate professor of pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
“Look for medical schools with more flexibility in terms of class and study schedules and rotations and clinical sites, plus a wide range of elective opportunities so that you can have ways to tailor your experience to fit both your learning needs and your extracurricular needs and wants,” she says.
4. A variety of extracurricular activities
Martin says a sense of belonging enhanced his medical school experience.
“I know I formed a lot of good relationships,” he says. Martin was an active member in his school chapter of the Student National Medical Association, which serves minority medical students.
Martin adds that as an African-American, he found a sense of comfort in the fact that there were organizations for people of color at his school.
“I never felt singled out,” he says. “I never felt ignored.”
5. A commitment to community service
Some medical students say their education is enriched by community service opportunities.
Aaron Briggs, a second-year student at Dartmouth University’s Geisel School of Medicine, says one of the best parts of his medical school experience so far has been his participation and leadership in the school’s “Beyond the Books” club. This club does service projects and hosts seminars about poverty’s impact on health.
6. Courses on bedside manner
A forward-thinking medical school will emphasize the importance of compassion in medicine, medical school professors say.
Two Harvard Medical School professors say the best medical schools are ones that teach students how to interact with patients.
Dr. Diane Fingold says it is essential for medical students to learn how to cope with emotionally intense moments such as when they have to inform a patient of a critical diagnosis.
Dr. Katharine Treadway says that a medical education without empathy training is an incomplete one. “You really do have to care about the person in order to take care of them,” she says.