In the past year, the Council of Osteopathic Student Government Presidents (COSGP) has made raising awareness of medical student mental health one of its top priorities by establishing a Mental Health Awareness Task Force in association with the Student Osteopathic Medical Association (SOMA). The OMS Day of Wellness, a day dedicated to medical student mental health, is one of the main initiatives of the task force.
COSGP and SOMA are addressing a serious issue: Nearly half of medical students report symptoms of burnout, and they are more likely to be depressed than members of the general public, according to studies.
This summer, COSGP and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) published another tool for reducing the stigma of mental illness and promoting mental health: the book “Inner Strength: Osteopathic Medical Students Reflect on Resiliency.”
Edited by Tyler Cymet, DO, AACOM’s chief of clinical education, “Inner Strength” is a collection of essays from nominees for the 2015-2016 Student DO of the Year award.
In the book, medical students share candid accounts of the challenges they face with their families, their schoolwork, and their personal growth.
“This book expanded how I look at osteopathic medical students and what they’re going through,” Dr. Cymet says. “It reveals the complexity of emotions that medical students experience.”
A roadmap for resiliency
The stories from “Inner Strength” show the “thought architecture” of resilient osteopathic medical students, says Dr. Cymet.
“How do you react when something goes wrong? It’s like ‘Zoolander,’ ” says Dr. Cymet. “If you always turn right, you’re going to turn right. How do you know how to turn left?”
The book also shows how distinct the culture of osteopathic medicine is, Dr. Cymet says. One overarching theme in the book is the struggle to live as an individual in a health care system with rigid rules and exact expectations. This issue is particularly acute in the osteopathic world, where students are more likely to be nontraditional candidates with diverse backgrounds.
“In osteopathic medicine, we pull the outliers in as much as possible because they challenge us,” says Dr. Cymet. “They make us think.”
“Inner Strength” is an invaluable read for anyone hoping to find resilience during a stressful time, says Shaun Mehdi, OMS IV, whose essay about being the primary caretaker to his ailing mother is included in the book.
“This book allows medical students to identify with each other and know they are not alone,” says Mehdi, who attends the Midwestern University/Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in Downers Grove, Illinois.
A strong sense of appreciation for the communities that support these students is evident throughout the book. Daphne Wong, OMS III, wrote about how her classmates helped her embrace her introverted side.
“I hope ‘Inner Strength’ portrays the incomparable bravery, courage, and strength that each of these individuals, one of whom I’m honored to say is myself, display as they rise above their struggles in order to continue pursuing something they love: medicine,” says Wong, who attends the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine in Dothan.
Dr. Cymet reminds medical students that becoming a physician shouldn’t mean letting go of your old identity.
“Happiness and comfort always come from knowing yourself first,” he says. “But life is lived with others, so medical students must allow time and space for the relationships in their lives to exist and grow.”