Using Hobbies as a Benchmark for Wellness in Medical Students

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Medical students are often asked to achieve what may not be possible. They are expected to excel academically, develop professional skills, assist in research, network with colleagues, and live a healthy lifestyle—all in the noble interest of becoming a better doctor. To accomplish this, student progress is tracked through a variety of measures: exams, clinical skills assessments, research projects, and reflective writing, to name just a few. Paradoxically, student wellness does not appear to be tracked as diligently as other cognitive and procedural competencies.
I am curious why schools do not routinely have benchmarks for self-care if wellness is such an important component of medical education. Self-care benchmarks could and should become part of a student’s portfolio. Sound health of mind and body should be a goal that is on par with learning basic and clinical science. If so, shouldn’t wellness be as carefully assessed? What if formative feedback and summative wellness evaluations were routinely provided to students, allowing them to adjust personal health habits as needed?
Wellness extends far beyond diet and physical activity. Academic advisors should inquire about interest groups and student hobbies, tracking engagement and participation. Spiritual, emotional, and financial wellness are other core elements of holistic student health. As with any other metric, this privileged information could help track performance. It could also help identify warning signs for burnout and serve a valuable preventive role in student health.
As a personal example, I am a zymurgist. I enjoy brewing beer and making wine. This is both a scientific endeavor and creative outlet for me. The principles of brewing and fermentation reinvigorate my interest in chemistry and biology. After a long day, designing a recipe from scratch provides release and a product to call my own. Additionally, I challenge myself by returning to older recipes and attempting to improve both process and product. Perhaps my wellness can be tracked simply by asking about my home brews. Maybe one day self-care will be foundational to medicine, and students will have to defend their hobbies and interests to their mentors. Or bribe them with beer.
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