Soon after starting her clinical rotations in 2017, third-year College of Medicine student Anh Vo felt something was missing.
The clinical work was stressful, she didn’t get to see her classmates, and everything seemed new and unfamiliar.
She approached her faculty adviser with an idea — starting an informal group meeting so medical classmates could periodically get together, share experiences, participate in a fun and creative activity not related to their studies, and decompress.
Thus, Tempus Tibi (Time for You) was born.
Co-founded by Vo and classmate, Alex Galloway, the group is just one of the growing efforts by students and faculty in the College of Medicine to humanize the rigors of medical education. From student gatherings, to meditation, to mentoring, to reflective writing, the emphasis on student well-being is becoming part of medical training.
“It has become part of the curriculum now, which to me is a very, very encouraging development,” said Renate Rosenthal, PhD. She was clerkship director for psychiatry for more than 25 years and now is assistant dean for behavioral science integration. “It’s something that we did not pay attention to in the past, but I think with increasing awareness of the emotional toll that it takes to become a physician and how stressful the whole medical care system has become, we really want to encourage our students to take a deep breath and reflect on what they’re going through and what they’re feeling and reach out to each other to get some help and affirmation and share some of that stuff, instead of just feeling inadequate and that they’re the only one who is having a problem.”
One of the best examples of this is Janus, an annual literary journal produced by UTHSC medical students and filled with prose and poetry reflecting their medical training. For many years, at the end of anatomy training on cadavers, there has been a tradition called the Cadaver Ceremony. Each M-1 class designs its own ceremony, which always includes writing something about their cadavers — who they might have been, what their lives were like, what the training taught them. The writing has been insightful, elegant, and often cathartic. So good, in fact, that students decided to compile selected pieces into a journal they called Janus.
The first issue, Reflections on Anatomy, roughly five years ago, was published online, with only a few print copies. For each subsequent issue, the Janus editorial board invited submissions from the entire COM student body. The latest issue, Expectations vs. Reality, is a print journal, now paid for the by the College of Medicine, with 15 student essays, poems, and some art work. They present an interesting portrait of the students, who are the future of medicine.
“Why is it more important to know the person a disease has, rather than the disease the person has?” wrote Hannah Lowenberg. ”The person’s disease is only part of their story.”
“Medical school is not just a journey to a dream — it is the dream,” wrote Janyn Quiz.
Omar Tamula, co-editor of the 2018 Janus, wrote, “The Short White Coat is seasoned with experience now and remembers that summer when it all felt ‘life and death.’ Unlike his past inexperienced self, he is proud he went through the summer because of the fortitude he gained from it.” Tamula graduated in May and is doing his residency in neurology at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
“The tasks have not gotten any easier, but I think the willingness to sit back and take a deep breath and figure out what all of this means has really increased in the student body,” Dr. Rosenthal said.
“We have very talented students, who before they went to medical school, have written for student papers, some have received awards for their poetry,” she said. “There is all kinds of talent that we don’t know about that goes completely underground when they start medical school, because they get occupied with learning medicine and that’s pretty much the beginning and the end of it. So it’s really important to have a vehicle for students, who are interested in expressing themselves, where they can do that and share their perceptions with others. I think that’s a very important service.”
It’s also important to their health and well-being. “There is scientific evidence that writing about things that you’re struggling with is helpful in sorting it out,” Dr. Rosenthal said. “When you see the different contributions, some of them are quite clearly attempts to sort things out by writing about them. Some of them are not, just creative things they want to share.”
Tempus Tibi founder Anh Vo was also co-editor of the 2018 Janus. She is currently at Yale School of Public Health pursuing a master’s degree, after which she will return to UTHSC for her fourth year of medical school.
Vo said she intends to continue writing for Janus when she returns to UTHSC and hopes the publication and other efforts to provide creative outlets for medical students continue to grow in the college. “Contributing to Janus is a great way to encourage younger M-1s and M-2s to incorporate things like reflection in their lives,” Vo said.
Dr. Rosenthal said the Janus editorial board now has students from across all four years of medical school. “This is a good development, because M-4 students can mentor the younger students to keep the momentum going,” she said.
“I hope we have more submissions, and I hope that in addition to submissions, they encourage our peers to reflect and write down our experiences,” Vo said. “It may not be submissions, but just their personal journals, someplace they can jot their thoughts down. It’s one of the missions of Janus, to encourage this on campus. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everything anyone writes will be submitted, it’s more the process, I guess, than the finished product.”
Tempus Tibi provided an avenue for reflection, discussion, and encouragement in the face of third-year challenges, Galloway said.
“I’m thankful and excited to see that the College of Medicine has taken a great interest in promoting student wellness,” he said. “Our monthly meetings helped me maintain a sense of balance, and I’m thankful for the community that developed around a shared interest in humanism and wellness. As I look toward residency, I will seek out and work to develop similar communities wherever I am.”
Note: This story is from the most recent issue of Medicine magazine.