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An Oasis for Student Wellness

The rigorous nature of medical school can take a toll on any student, but the Wellness Center at Saint Louis University School of Medicine provides a dedicated haven to alleviate the pressure. Second-year classmates Grace Trello and Blake Sparkman recognize its immediate effect on forming a stronger community among SLU medical students. 

Students and a faculty member sit on chairs and benches in a room with windows and plants.
Pictured is Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Lauren Schwartz, Ph.D., interacting with students in the new wellness space

“The Wellness Center is an oasis in the middle of medical school,” Trello said. “It is a comfortable and welcoming place with windows to have lunch, study, play games with friends, or just relax.”

The center gives students a sense of place among the comfort and safety of their peers — opening the doors for more shared experiences. Its comfortable chairs, warm blankets and large windows welcome students to make meaningful connections and balance academic rigors with activities promoting positive mental health. 

“I appreciate that our school allocates time and resources toward student wellness,” Sparkman said. “I hope current and prospective students continue to utilize the space and have it serve as a reminder to devote time to their own mental health.” 

Saint Louis University School of Medicine (SLU SOM) students are as vulnerable to depression and burnout as any population, but with a lead gift from Susan Willman, M.D., (SOM '82), students now have a space on campus to support mental health and emotional well-being. 

In 2012, while on campus for her 30th medical school reunion, Willman attended a presentation about student mental health that highlighted a study that found that 25 percent of medical students suffer from depression and anxiety. 

For Willman, that lecture emphasized the importance of creating safe, nurturing spaces for students to decompress — outside of the rigors of medical school. She knew the burnout of traditional medical school training — patient care had priority, while sleep and nutrition were not valued as necessary components for learning. Willman also knew that SLU SOM has been a leader in addressing wellness for its students, dating back to 2011 when curriculum changes were made to adopt a pass/fail model. She emphasizes more should be done — especially for students with learning disabilities and financial stress.

She and Lauren Schwarz, Ph.D., assistant dean of student affairs, reviewed a wish list of items to benefit the wellness of the medical school population. "At the top of the list was a request for a quiet gathering place," said Willman, "the idea of a student space is the cornerstone necessary to bring the other needs to life —access to therapy services, stress reduction training, student wellness retreats, and wellness programs."

With Willman's gift, the new wellness space is now in the Caroline Building at the School of Medicine, adjacent to Campus Ministry and near counseling services.