Updated: Sep 16
Response to Anonymous's post on WSMS website: "If I go to Alicia for help because I'm struggling with balancing everything, will it be flagged with the School of Medicine?" It is a common pre-occupation that when consulting me it might not be private and, in some way, might be flagged or communicated with the staff at the School of Medicine. The answer to this question is a definite and firm no. Even when an academic has referred a student to me, there is no discussion about that student beyond a thank you for supporting a student to come and see me. The School of Medicine is not advised of who makes appointments with the Director of Well-being. Notes taken during meetings are for the purposes of documenting concerns and referrals made. These notes are for me, as a reminder of what has been done when and if I see you again. All notes are kept off Campus in a secure filing cabinet. The rules of confidentiality are no different if you were to consult a General Practitioner, Psychologist, Psychiatrist, University Counsellors, or other support service providers. The School of Medicine and the Director of Student Well-being appreciate that if confidentiality was not to exist, students would likely leave their concerns unattended to fester. The purpose of my role is to provide an expedient, timely, warm, and relaxed response to concerns for triage, and to ensure that triage is working effectively.
What can I expect when I decide to see The Director of Student Well-being? Below is an outline of what would typically happen once you've made the decision to consult the Director of Student Well-being. I hope this outline makes you more comfortable and dispels any mystery by transparently outlining the process and explaining the content of a consult. Typically, students become aware of a concern they have that is not going away or is getting worse. A niggling concern is disconcerting and uncomfortable. The experience of being emotionally uncomfortable is the primary reason for considering reaching out and contacting me. No different to the rest of the population, medical students should be afforded the same care and concern for their worries and struggles just as anyone else. In fact, the idea that you should be bigger, stronger, and better and not subject to the same problematic interpersonal, intrapersonal & systemic issues as the rest of the population, just because you are studying medicine is unhealthy, unrealistic, and problematic. However, it is a very common idea and for this reason the School of Medicine has created a role wherein someone can be available on demand to assist with concerns in a timely fashion. Like many people in the population, but more so in groups where the culture is "I should be bigger, stronger and better than this because I am...a medical student, a health professional, an adult, a man, a police officer, a firefighter; people from my cultural background don't discuss problems", avoidance and delays in reaching out have already occurred. Consequently, individuals are headed into, or are already in crisis. A service which is available on timely demand avoids any further delays, where triage is responsive, and student is held whilst services are in place and clearly supportive to the student is highly helpful. How do I contact Alicia? Contact is easy, you can ring me and leave a confidential message on my mobile (m: 0419 288 808), send a text or email me. I typically respond back on the day and discuss your concerns either at that moment or schedule a time to do so. How do meetings take place? I am flexible around how our contact happens and the time it happens. I'm available during school hours and by arrangement after school hours on phone and Zoom. I personally like to come into the University and see students. However, for those students who can't or prefer to speak off campus that's fine too. Some students have just wanted email backwards and forwards to address their concerns, some students want face to face. What happens in a meeting? Our meetings are in a private room, relaxed and every effort is made to make you feel welcomed and safe. Confidentiality is reiterated with you. The kind of questions you can expect are:
What brings you to our meeting?
When did those concerns start?
What do you think you need?
What have you tried so far?
What's worked? What has not worked well for you?
By this stage I have a good idea of the types of referrals that could be generated and other supports that need to be put into place. We discuss supports and referrals. Which ones you want and which ones you don't. What would be your greatest concern about pursuing any of these supports and/or referrals? Would you like me to make the referrals on your behalf? We book another time to talk again to follow up to see how you are going. How have those referrals gone? Are you engaged with the person you are seeing? Do you feel like resources offered to you are working for you? If not, let's go back to the drawing board. The latter is infrequent, however when it happens, it is important to make it known to me, I need to make sure you get what you need but also to assess that pathway again for future use. Often our contact ends at this point with a friendly reminder, that I'm here and that the door is open for us to talk again about old concerns or new ones as they might arise for further triage. I hope the above is helpful in shining a light on what the School of Medicine is trying to achieve with a Student Well-being staff member being there to assist you and that any fears of consulting me are dispelled. Achieving a work-life balance Tiff: Hi Alicia! A few of the student cohorts have recently had exams and enjoyed a well-deserved break. To prepare for the second half of the year, we would love to know some tips on how to achieve more of a balance between studying and leisure time to minimise stress & anxiety in the future. Alicia: Of course, I'd say we can start off with being organised first, what are some of the tools you use to stay on things? Tiff: I really like to use Google Calendar to schedule meetings and social events because I can easily access it across all my devices. I also like to make lots of lists to ensure I don't forget anything - I type them down on Notion, set reminders on my phone, use a paper to-do list and random sticky notes. Another thing I tend to do is setting the due date for assignments a week earlier so I don't leave it to the last minute. Do you have specific recommendations for us? Alicia: Be a prolific user of your diary. Use your diary for rest and recreation (R&R), not just your lectures, tutorial, study timetables and assignment deadlines. Build into your timetable time for R&R. More so, include R&R activities that don't happen regularly like sleep and exercise. Regular sleep is important - waking cycles and exercise are part of your automatic regime, but social events might not be. Block out non study periods where you might socialise or do things you enjoy doing. Scheduling social events - looking at your diary you might notice that you have some social events coming up in the next week but nothing in the next few weeks. Start considering what you might do, who with and what can you start organising those plans and blocking that time out. It might be small events, a quick coffee with a friend, a walk with a friend or a bigger break like a dinner, or dessert or a movie. Looking at your week ahead and seeing those study obligations can feel overwhelming, but seeing something coming up is great to work towards, and often after that social contact we come back to study routines and work with fresh eyes and attitude. Planning your down time also means you're less likely to procrastinate and burn out. Tiff: That sounds really great! I know sometimes it can be easy to get carried away and pile lots of tasks on top of each other. Any red flags indicating imminent burnout that we should keep an eye out for? Alicia: A breakdown in your self-care micro and macro care routines. Micro self-care routines (like bedtime routines) are ignored for the purposes of unproductive study, and include getting into and out of bed at different times, not getting enough sleep, and skipping meals. Macro self-care engagements such as cancelling social events at the last minute, cancelling exercise, and increases in procrastination despite being available for study after cancelling self-care events are also things to look out for. Tiff: Those are important points. And if we reach this point and recognise, we don't have a good work-life balance, what would you recommend we do at that moment / what action plan should we implement? Alicia: I think sitting with someone who has been through the process of studying a medical degree is invaluable to get some support to write a reasonable study / work / R&R plan. It is also important to pick someone you trust to discuss how you are feeling about being behind. This could be a fellow student, a medical student mentor, your year coordinator and of course me in the role of Student Well-being officer.
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