UC Davis launches new program to help students navigate medical school

Dr. Seritan
Andreea Seritan, pictured left, with a client.

Posted August 15, 2012

UC Davis has launched an innovative new effort to help its students navigate the rocky shoals of medical education by engaging some of their biggest and most ardent and important supporters: their families and friends.

The program, launched by the UC Davis School of Medicine Office of Student Wellness, is aimed at helping medical student families, friends, spouses and partners understand the pressures inherent in attending medical school.

Medical school is highly rewarding. But it also is an intellectually, emotionally and even physically demanding experience, with very long hours, an overwhelming workload, and academic pressures all taking their toll, according to Andreea L. Seritan, assistant dean of Student Wellness in the School of Medicine.

"It's important to have an open channel of communication between our school and student parents, spouses and friends -- anyone who is close to the student, to help them know what the student may be facing," Seritan said.

The program may especially benefit families of students who are members of communities underrepresented in medical education, such as African-American and Hispanic students, she said.

The students inducted into the UC Davis School of Medicine Class of 2016 consist of 60 women and 49 men. Almost half identified themselves as coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, and 42 percent are from populations that are underrepresented in medicine.

Underrepresented populations include American Indian/Alaskan Native, Black or African American, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and Asians who are not Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Asian Indian or Thai.

Medical students
This program is aimed at helping medical student families, friends, spouses and partners understand the pressures inherent in attending medical school.

A first step, Seritan said, was holding a 1-1/2-hour long workshop for new students' families immediately following the new student induction ceremony, where families learned firsthand about what it's like to be a medical student. More than 200 family members and friends attended, she said.

The workshop outlined some of the issues new students' families may face, including:

  • Students have no control over schedules, so families may feel no control
  • Trying to balance family members' schedules and avoid competing deadlines
  • Family may feel "left behind"

Students also may struggle with the transition in their roles within their families:

  • Concerns over being first in the family to attend college or medical school
  • Ethnic minority students feeling that they have to give back to their communities
  • Balancing their own desire to attend medical school with their family's need to experience their achievements

"We wanted to help families understand that their extremely bright, determined students will experience tremendous personal growth," Seritan said. "But they might feel as though they're distanced from their families," because of the demands of the medical education program, she said.

About UC Davis School of Medicine

The UC Davis School of Medicine is among the nation's leading medical schools, recognized for its research and primary-care programs.

The school offers fully accredited master's degree programs in public health and in informatics, and its combined M.D.-Ph.D. program is training the next generation of physician-scientists to conduct high-impact research and translate discoveries into better clinical care.

Along with being a recognized leader in medical research, the school is committed to serving underserved communities and advancing rural health. For more information, visit UC Davis School of Medicine at medschool.ucdavis.edu.

"We provided the family workshop so that they could be aware of the resources available to support their students and their families," she said. "So it's not like they're handing their loved ones over and they don't know what's going to happen."

The effort is being supported by a three-year, $102,000-per-year grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The grant supports work by Seritan and her colleagues, who include Hendry Ton, health sciences associate clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Silvia Garma, associate professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Darin Latimore, assistant dean for student and resident diversity in the Office of Student and Resident Diversity; Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, professor of clinical internal medicine and founding director of the Center for Reducing Health Disparities; Debora Paterniti, associate adjunct professor of internal medicine and sociology with the Center for Healthcare Policy and Research; and Ana-Maria Iosif, assistant adjunct professor in the Department of Public Health, Division of Biostatistics.

Seritan said another part of the grant will help develop programs to support students who are active and former members of the United States armed forces. She said that there currently are about 15 such students enrolled.

The Office of Student Wellness was established in 2009 to foster an institutional culture that promotes student wellness, identify and enrich resources for student wellness, and provide a point of triage for supporting students with mental-health difficulties.