While the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed how students are learning at the MGH Institute and around the world, it also has highlighted the important connection of how their health affects their success.  

To address student health concerns holistically and proactively, the IHP is creating a Wellness Council. Its purpose is to ensure an effective, coordinated response to students’ current mental, emotional, and physical health needs, and to guide the Institute toward best-practice strategies and resources to meet and exceed future needs, said Jack Gormley, EdD, the dean of student and alumni services. 

“There has never been a more stressful or more challenging time to be a student,” Dr. Gormley said, noting that many faculty and staff already are involved in the formal and informal work of supporting students’ holistic health and success during their time at the Institute. “This is a priority that involves Student Assistance Program (SAP) counselors, academic support counselors, the Office of Student and Alumni Services (OSAS), and faculty teaching and advising in every program.  

Gormley noted that both the Institute’s Strategic Priorities and the 2020 New England Commission on Higher Education reaccreditation report highlight the IHP’s need to ensure that programmatic support for student wellness is prioritized. The council will strengthen the Institute’s response to student needs in an inclusive and organized manner. It also will elevate frequently asked questions about the SAP, peer-to-peer opportunities at the IHP that many students participated in at their previous schools, and provide a venue to fight stigma around mental health.  

Activities being considered include optimizing utilization of the SAP and other wellness resources; reducing students’ Covid-related stress about starting their careers; self-care and mindfulness programming such as meditation, yoga, and narrative medicine; and publicizing IHP-specific student health and support protocols for new faculty and staff. 

“The council will signal that the Institute’s mission and core values around advancing health and education to the highest standard includes a caring, appropriately resourced commitment to the needs of the whole student,” said Gormley. 

 The council’s mission, he noted, must be accomplished through open dialogue in order to maximize community members’ expertise and concern while fostering a culture of wellness, an especially relevant goal for graduate health science students. Including students, faculty, staff, and alumni in the initiative will ensure the council benefits from a wide variety of perspectives and that its work respects and includes all stakeholders throughout the MGH Institute community.  

As Dr. Jane Baldwin, an assistant professor of physical therapy, pointed out in a recent Faculty Senate meeting, the importance of wellness and self-care skills will only grow when students begin their professional practice. “We need to support students through grad school but also emphasize the skills and resources they’ll need for the long term,” she said. 

In addition to Gormley, the council also will include an assistant dean from both the School of Nursing and the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, several faculty and staff from each school, several students and graduates, the associate director of OSAS for accessibility resources, and SAP representatives.  

The first informational meeting will be held March 25 starting at 6 p.m., with additional informational sessions on March 30, April 8, and April 9. Faculty, staff, students, and alumni interested in serving on the council, or participating in one of several subcommittees planned to address various wellness topics, are encouraged to attend an upcoming meeting or contact jbgormley [at] mghihp.edu (subject: Wellness%20Council) (Dean Gormley).