Pitt School of Medicine Program Serves as Model for Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Its Students

Medical students have higher rates of depression, suicidal ideation, and burnout than the general population and greater concerns about the stigma of mental illness. The nature of medical education seems to contribute to this disparity, since students entering medical school score better on indicators of mental health than similarly aged college graduates. In a recent New England Journal of Medicine article by Jordan F. Karp, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Anesthesiology, and Clinical and Translational Science, and Arthur S. Levine, MD, Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences and the John and Gertrude Petersen Dean at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, report that roughly half of students experience burnout, and 10% report suicidal ideation during medical school. In addition to barriers including stigma and lack of time, other challenges for students during their clinical years are the financial challenges posed by copayments and privacy concerns by students who are still on their parents’ health insurance plans and may not want their families to know they are receiving mental health treatment. 

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has been addressing these challenges of access, privacy, and stigma by leveraging its resources to create a unique program that can serve as a model for other academic institutions. The School of Medicine program features a dedicated medical student mental health care team comprised of a faculty psychiatrist and full-time psychologist.  The mental health care team is further augmented by the Student Health Advocacy Resource Program (SHARP), a confidential peer-counseling referral and advocacy service for medical students that is sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Office of Student Affairs. Other schoolwide initiatives that may help improve mental health and reduce stress among students include formal advising program that provides support, advocacy, mentorship, and advice throughout all four years of medical school. Another initiative - the Faculty and Students Together (FAST) program - helps students make the transition to medical school, get to know faculty advisors outside the medical environment, and observe how faculty members balance work and life choices. To learn more about how the Pitt School of Medicine is leveraging resources to meet the mental health needs of its students, click here

Mental Health Services for Medical Students — Time to Act
Karp JF and Levine AS

New England Journal of Medicine, 2018; 379:1196-1198m DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1803970