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Workshops, courses, conferences: how universities are trying to improve the well-being of health students

In Montpellier, Poitiers or Rennes, universities are implementing initiatives to improve the health of students, which, according to several studies, can deteriorate during their training. The goal is also to improve the doctor-patient relationship in the long run.

The welfare of health students becomes a priority. Several universities wanted to solve the problem from the beginning of their studies by starting workshopssupport cells and even a teaching unit focused on student well-being and improving empathy.

Basic idea: that student development makes them better caregivers and conversely, that learning a better doctor-patient relationship makes the study worthwhile.

These initiatives follow several studies conducted by student associations in 2017 and 2018, which showed that health students were particularly prone to anxiety disorders, depression and even suicidal thoughts.

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Faced with these findings, the Department of Health made 15 commitments in April 2018 to improve their well-being. However, the situation remains worrying. In 2021, it even informed a new national survey of three medical student associations an increase in anxiety (+12 points) and depression (+11 points) since 2017.

Healthy future caregivers for better patient care

The immediate objective of the activities carried out by the universities concerns “well-being and the impact it can have on success, memory’ says Laurent Bosquet, professor and head of the Department of Sport and Health at the University of Poitiers. According to him, “they are also our future caregivers, medicine is increasingly recognizing prevention and they must contribute to it”.

Laurent Bosquet helped create HappyDoc with the University Hospital and the Faculty of Medicine, a three-day seminar that takes place at the beginning of the second year of medicine because “it’s the first year that does the most damage”. There, students play sports or relax, listen to conference debates in the presence of health professionals, film debates or theater forums about nutrition, health, the environment or even sexual violence and sexism.

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The success of this system, which has been in place since 2018, led the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region to extend it last year to the faculties of Limoges and this year to Bordeaux. “The goal is for students to be in good health and to understand the importance of this preventionto then spread it among their patients and their colleagues in their professional activity and introduce a change in the health paradigm, explains Françoise Jeanson, vice-president of the regional council. Happy and healthy caregivers are patients who are better monitored and cared for.”

Empathy, a key factor in a caring relationship that also improves well-being

This is also the opinion of Céline Bourgier, director of the Montpellier School of Cancer, and Amandine Luquiens, psychiatrist and addictologist. Both are responsible for the new teaching unit (UE) “know-how and therapeutic communication” launched in 2021-2022 at the Faculty of Medicine of Montpellier-Nîmes. The source of their thinking: the observation that “some students did not necessarily acquire medical know-how” explains Céline Bourgier.

They have a lot of empathy when they come to medicine. But, “over time, several studies have shown that this clinical empathy declines in the caregiving situation in the doctor-patient relationship”, explains Amandine Luquiens.

Therefore, they have built a teaching unit in modules that are gradually added over the years of medicine. Between them, fake consultation to report a chronic illnessmindfulness meditation, role-playing about the art of communication, exchange groups among students, etc.

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Compulsory teaching unit for all medical students

“These are strategies that have already shown a certain level of evidence and allow to limit the decline in clinical empathy. This is indirectly related to mental health. Students are in a caring relationship that makes sense; however keeping the meaning of what you do in line with your values ​​protects against burnout. It is also a protection against the risks of anxiety, explains Amandine Luquiens. We’re really careful not to offer students esoteric stuff, it’s really “evidence-based” [basé sur des preuves, NDLR]”.

The teaching unit, which is very practical and professionalising, is compulsory for all medical students, although they may skip some classes. “We have such a long-term vision this has an impact on their future professional life, but also in the context of the 5th year of medicinewhere the exam is now being done in simulation [les ECOS, soit examens cliniques objectifs et structurés, NDLR], adds Céline Bourgier. They are assessed on soft skills, so we give them the necessary tools so that they don’t feel in trouble.

In addition to this new teaching unit, there are other actions of the Faculty of Medicine in Montpellier in favor of mental health, including a unit for pupils with difficulties.

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Cells composed of teachers and students

A cell of this type called “Bee-M” (for the “well-being of medical students”) was created in February 2022 in Rennes 1. Composed of professors, doctors and students, it mainly offers mentoring by teachers and interns for student volunteers and events. “The conference for this year’s winter is currently being finalized. It will be focused on an introduction to non-violent communication, intended for hospital staff and post-graduate students in the medical fields”, specifies Patricia Amé, a member of Bee-Mr.

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Another example at the University of Aix-Marseille, where at the beginning of 2022, a “Charity Commission” was also created. within the Faculty of Medical and Paramedical Sciences for all healthcare students. They can use it “for all situations of psychosocial risks, addiction, harassment, depression, financial difficulties and for any difficulties during studies”.

Evaluate facilities designed for the welfare of health students

Now for HappyDoc,”one of the challenges is to increase the number of students who come : in Bordeaux there was pharmacy and dentistry, but medicine was not there. There were 500 students in Poitiers, but it is important that they are all there”, affirms Françoise Jeanson, who would like this program to be extended to secondary education and, why not, also to other faculties.

We have launched an evaluation with Isped [Institut de santé publique, d’épidémiologie et de développement] and at the end of the year we will have an educational kit and resources for universities that want them,” adds Laurent Bosquet.

In Montpellier, where the first responses are rather positive, Amandine Luquiens founded since the launch of the EU, anonymized study on a cohort of voluntary students, evaluated and monitored for three years, to measure the impact of teaching according to several criteria. “The main goal of monitoring is clinical empathy in the care situation,” reminds the doctor. The first results are already being analyzed.

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