For information about COVID-19, including symptoms and prevention, please read our COVID-19 patient guide. Please also consider supporting Weill Cornell Medicine’s efforts against the pandemic.

Dean's Letter - May 2019

Dear Members of the WCM Community,

At Weill Cornell Medicine, we work together to provide our patients with the most comprehensive, evidence-based care and to train the next generation of physicians and scientists to be leaders in healthcare and biomedical investigation.  We are always striving toward a fundamental goal: to improve health.

Yet increasingly, data indicate that doctors and students nationwide are in need of some attention themselves – an important issue to highlight in May, which is Mental Health Month.  According to a recent study by the Association of American Medical Colleges, 29% of medical school faculty reported burnout, including those in both basic science and clinical departments.  A paper from Harvard University and Massachusetts health organizations declared that burnout severely challenges the doctor-patient relationship and now amounts to a public health crisis that threatens the delivery of healthcare nationwide.  Other research shows that physicians think about and commit suicide at higher rates than people in the general population.

Clinicians today are certainly facing longer hours, rising caseloads, and a spike in administrative tasks related to electronic medical records, all of which can contribute to burnout.  Students may also be affected and seem to be experiencing depression and anxiety at higher rates than their peers.  A 2016 review of the literature found that 27% of medical students experience depression or depressive symptoms, while other studies estimate that approximately half are burned out.  Similarly, a report in Nature Biotechnology in 2018 showed a high prevalence of depression and anxiety in a sample of graduate students, with authors calling for expanded mental health and career development resources, better training for faculty acting as mentors, and a shift in the academic culture toward greater self-care.

Thankfully, the problem of burnout and the need for improved strategies to promote resilience and well-being are getting much-needed attention around the country.  Professional societies are considering ways we might change the environments in which students train and doctors practice. And at Weill Cornell Medicine, we are committed to exploring new ways to reduce stress, promote overall wellness, and increase a sense of belonging throughout the community.

We have begun these efforts with initiatives like Well at Weill, which supports medical and graduate student wellness with a focus on promoting self-care and resilience, and we’ve expanded both our counseling and mental health services for students.  Individual departments have also created a number of resources to promote wellness, and we have launched multiple opportunities for faculty and trainees to gather more frequently and to engage in varied professional activities.

During the past month, our faculty, students, and postdocs participated for the first time in an anonymous, online wellness assessment called the Well-Being Index.  The survey provided respondents with estimates of their current well-being level in relation to peers, as well as access to a variety of resources.  Results of the survey will help us understand where we currently stand as an institution and will allow us to develop targeted interventions to further enhance our culture of wellness. 

On September 18-19, Weill Cornell Medicine is proud to be hosting the first-ever National Conference on Medical Student Mental Health and Well-Being, in partnership with the Association of American Medical Colleges, Associated Medical Schools of New York, and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  The conference will bring together national experts, medical school administrators and faculty, mental health professionals, and students, with the goal of understanding the extent of the mental health needs of students and identifying innovative methods for fostering greater resilience and well-being that can be implemented at institutions around the country (http://weill.cornell.edu/mentalhealth2019). 

These are only initial steps; we recognize that there is still much more important work to be done.  Combatting stigma and providing support for mental health issues are important throughout the year, and we are dedicated to cultivating a working and learning environment in which all members of our community can thrive.  We can only advance in our mission of improving health when we are strong and well ourselves.

Sincerely,

Augustine M.K. Choi, MD

Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean
Weill Cornell Medicine
Provost for Medical Affairs
Cornell University