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Students, faculty and staff are welcome to reimagine wellness at our first Geisinger Games on Saturday, May 7, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine in Scranton. 

Total health includes wellness: Initiative to ‘centralize and center’ wellness advances

A community of caring people is no substitute for a culture of wellness. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this realization began to dawn as faculty and students searched for ways to support one another in their shared isolation. 

“As we met with students during the pandemic, we heard more about how hard it was to remotely navigate the variety of wellness activities we had at the school,” says Jackie Ghormoz, MSW, CSW, assistant dean of students. “While there were many different wellness resources offered through both the school and student groups, as well as in the community, many had gone to virtual formats or were suspended. Information about them was posted in separate locations, so finding them was sometimes confusing. We realized that our wellness resources needed to be coordinated and centralized for easier access for students.”

In the fall of 2020, having heard student feedback, then-President and Dean Steven J. Scheinman, MD, asked the associate dean of student affairs, Tanja Adonizio, MD, to convene a task force dedicated to “centralizing and centering” student wellness at the school. “Our work on wellness has been an iterative process,” Dr. Adonizio says. “But last fall, our taskforce was able to really move things along. We began by recognizing that health and wellness are a spectrum. You have crisis interventions and specific actions like medical leave of absence support on one end, and proactive prevention found in things like peer support programs on the other. Our charge was to support both ends and everything in between in a comprehensive manner that is both easy to communicate and to navigate.”

Student leaders have been deeply involved in the wellness development effort, Dr. Adonizio notes. “Students were well represented on our task force,” she adds. “They have been extremely engaged in everything from helping to build a portal site listing every school and community wellness resource available to strengthening existing peer mentoring programs.”

Sydney Shade, a member of the MD Class of 2023, serves on the task force. “I’m proud to be a part of the group that turned student ideas into reality and excited that student feedback inspired some substantial changes at the school,” she says. “I’m especially looking forward to having a separate department dedicated to supporting and improving the well-being of Geisinger Commonwealth students, just like we have offices devoted to helping students succeed academically and professionally.”

The task force identified three main “pillars” that categorize their work:

  • Creating a Center for Student Wellness
  • Enhancing available services
  • Building a culture of wellness

Work has advanced under every pillar, according to Dr. Adonizio. Significant renovations to the Medical Sciences Building West Wing’s fourth floor are a visible reminder of the progress. 

As for enhancing services, Dr. Adonizio identified a new teletherapy service — TimelyCare — that augments the counseling and support available in Student Health Services and from Geisinger’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program). Shade believes this is an important development, saying, “I think that expanding health services, including mental healthcare, with a telehealth program will open up so many more options for students, without the stress of scheduling difficulties, missing class or finding a good provider. Additionally, we hope it will provide better access for students on clinical rotations at different regional campuses.”

In the peer mentoring area, student leaders have formed what they call GPS, short for Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine Peer Support. Run by peer support navigators (students who have completed Mental Health First Aid and small group facilitation training), GPS offers individual and group conversations designed to support students in addressing academic stress, interpersonal conflicts, imposter syndrome, feelings of isolation and general mental health concerns.

“There have always been wellness components in our curriculum. And we had a great deal of wellness-oriented activities,” Ms. Ghormoz says. “But programs and activities weren’t connected. When the task force began to meet, we saw the complexity in navigating the resources. Now with the portal site and the Center for Student Wellness directed by Dr. Ellison, we have a central place for wellness to infuse the entire student experience and a place where we can continually reassess and reinvent programs.”

an image of Sydney Shade
Sydney Shade, MD class of 2023