WVU School of Medicine residency programs prioritize wellness among students

For more than 550 residents at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, juggling patients, personal lives and training is an adjustment as they enter their residency program. For some, they’re adjusting to new cities, new living arrangements, new clinics and communities. For others, it’s learning to find work-life balance in a new environment.

But Graduate Medical Education and departments around the school have developed, and continue to expand, wellness initiatives in hope to help residents learn that self-care is as important as patient-care.

“Resident wellness is really about building a culture within your program and making sure residents feel comfortable talking with the program director and chief residents,” said Sarah Sofka, M.D. FACP, vice chair of education and internal medicine residency program director and professor. “We do everything we can to make residency physically and emotionally as healthy as possible.” 

For first-year resident Ahmed Haque, M.D., the emphasis on wellness has been an integral part of success throughout all the challenges of the residency.

“Wellness for our program isn’t merely a word to advertise or a box to check, and it isn’t limited by a seven to five shift or the walls of a clinic or hospital,” said Dr. Haque. “It is a recognition that every day of residency will bring its own challenges and successes, and that the most critical impact of a program are the ways it teaches residents to treat and support their future colleagues and trainees during all the high, lows and neutral periods.”

This includes universal mental health screenings and wellness days for residents through the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program. Residents can schedule a few visits throughout the year to talk with a therapist.

The built-in time to talk one-on-one with a therapist is not only well received by residents, but greatly appreciated. Since integrating these sessions into the curriculum, residency programs have seen positive results.

“We have found that these universal visits with a therapist have decreased the stigma about receiving mental health care,” Sofka said. “The residents have access to unlimited visits, free of charge, and we found they have been more likely to go back on their own since we have started this program.”

Residents say the support provided by faculty creates the best environment for learning.

“Our program has hired and retained great attendings who are fun and easy to work with,” said  Heather Tucker, D.O., a second-year resident. “This makes for a positive learning environment, where we can make mistakes free of ridicule, but also feel challenged to do our best.”

Wellness is also emphasized through monthly social events, humanism meetings, group activities and support from senior residents and faculty from the moment first-year residents step on campus.

“During the first few months of residency we have more senior residents available to support the interns and work with them one-on-one,” said Sofka. “We have several team-building events, and I meet with each of the internal medicine residents during that first month to see how they’re adjusting and work on career planning.”

Emergency Medicine Chief Resident Priya Arumuganathan, M.D., credits the supportive environment and emphasis on wellness as a deciding factor when choosing a residency program.

“The program supports us by incorporating wellness days into our curriculum where residents and faculty gather and spend time outdoors together in place of our normally scheduled conference time,” Dr. Arumuganathan said. “These trips are something that we look forward to as a way to recharge with good friends. Having activities such as these are what help our program stay close and truly feel like a family.”

For faculty developing and overseeing residency programs, it is important that residents feel supported while they continue their training and treat patients.

“We want to provide our residents with the support and resources they need to be healthy and happy both in and outside of work, while reinforcing the concept that wellness does not equate to laziness,” said Erica Shaver, M.D., FACEP, vice chair for education and training and emergency medicine residency program director. “Residents still show up, do their job and act professional but all in the setting of a supportive and nurturing learning environment.”

It's that emphasis on resident wellbeing that Langley Regester, D.O., says helped make the early days of residency smoother.

“I can remember a time during my intern year when I received an e-mail from the chief residents reminding me that I had vacation days to use since I hadn’t really taken any,” said Dr. Regester. “It was a good reminder to me that the faculty care not only about performance but about the people they’re training. That distinction makes a difference in our residency experience.”

WVU School of Medicine offers ACGME approved residency and fellowship programs in 53 specialty areas.

To learn more about residency and fellowships programs visit medicine.wvu.edu/graduate-medical-education/residency-fellowship-programs/



Cassie Thomas

Director of Communications

School of Medicine