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A Stressful Learning Environment

By Sue Byrne

The hospital environment can be intense for medical students. “Being in an acute-care setting, you will encounter shouting, temper tantrums, and rudeness,” Allison Ludwig, M.D., Einstein’s associate dean for student affairs, told the medical students assembled in Lubin Dining Hall as part of their Transition to Clerkship training. “It may not be directed at you. But it erodes the learning environment,” she said.

She cautioned students to not confuse being embarrassed with being mistreated. “On rounds, we go from the lowest up, which means the student speaks first” when giving a patient assessment, Dr. Ludwig said. This is meant to be a learning experience—not an exercise in humiliation. She noted that mistreatment, which can include public belittling, will not be tolerated at Einstein. “We have a zero-tolerance policy, and an ‘ombuds’ panel of faculty and students will confidentially investigate your complaint without risk of retaliation,” she said.

Dr. Ludwig offered other advice to the third-years:

  • Use your time wisely during clerkships. “At the end of the day, ask ‘Is there anything else I can do today?’ If the answer is no, then you should leave. You don’t get bonus points for staying when the work is done, so ask to be dismissed.”
  • Advocate for yourself. “Part of a strategy for maintaining work-life balance is being proactive,” she said. “You’re entitled to a doctor’s appointment or a sick day. And inform people as soon as you know that you have an important function you have to attend.”
  • Seek out Einstein’s mental-health resources if needed. The new Student Mental Health Center in the Van Etten Building is set up with staff trained to help with such issues as stress, anxiety, and depression. “You can be more effective in caring for others when you attend to your own well-being first,” she said.
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