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New Geisinger Commonwealth student wellness center puts well-being at the forefront.

A permanent spot devoted to self-care does more than just give students a place to decompress — it fills a critical need.

Emphasis on well-being

A new student wellness center is open at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. The goal? Helping students focus on their own well-being.

This new location, housed on fourth-floor west wing of the school’s Medical Sciences Building, features spaces devoted to multiple realms of wellness, including physical, emotional and spiritual.

The new Center for Student Wellness was previewed during the school’s first-ever Geisinger Games in May. At that event, students played foosball and cornhole. They did yoga and meditated. They even played Kahoot-generated trivia games and spent time with Humphrey, the big, friendly, shaggy therapy dog. 

Scheduled at the end of the academic year, the games provided a chance for students to decompress and indulge in some lighthearted camaraderie while working on their own wellness.

“I was so pleased with the reaction to the fourth floor — from faculty, staff and students to students’ families,” said Halle Ellison, MD, the school’s director of medical student wellness. “Seeing the space made them feel heard in their requests for more wellness resources.”

Seeing things through a familiar lens

Directing this work, Dr. Ellison notes, is personal. She draws from her own experiences during residency. “As a resident, I experienced how the culture of medicine can cause distress,” she said. “There are things we need to change. We need to look back to say, how did we get here and what can we do differently?”

Dr. Ellison also wanted to help build something new. During her work as assistant program director for the school’s general surgery residency, she worked on creating wellness initiatives. But, she notes, she saw this wellness center as a chance to change the culture.

“This is important work,” she said. “I saw this job as a great opportunity to reset the way that we train. And a chance to develop a foundation that students will carry with them through the rest of their training and practice.”

Closing the gap

Dr. Ellison said she began listening to students’ concerns and working to identify gaps. Doing that, she said, helped identify the resources students need most. From there, the Geisinger Commonwealth team got work, identifying gaps and building a framework that would pave the way for a more formal, organized wellness program. 

One gap that stood out to Dr. Ellison? Finding a way to cut through the red tape and speak effectively with students. She’s introduced “Just In Time Updates,” 5-minute updates Dr. Ellison delivers in-person during classroom time. She uses these updates to talk about wellness initiatives or anything new. These brief, but frequent updates give students face-to-face interaction, something that’s key for Dr. Ellison.

Dr. Ellison is also learning about wellness resources at partner systems AtlantiCare and Guthrie. “We want to be certain that our students have a seamless experience and find the resources they need,” she said.

Wellness Center

Space for student activities in the Medical Sciences Building’s new fourth-floor Wellness Center.

Giant Jenga

Tic-tac-toe relays at the first-ever Geisinger Games.

Views of the student exercise room

Views of the student exercise room in the Medical Sciences Building’s new fourth-floor  Wellness Center.

Space for student activities

Space for student activities in the Medical Sciences Building’s new fourth-floor Wellness Center.

The first annual Geisinger Games

Ready for the first-ever Geisinger Games!

Students playing games

Tic-tac-toe relays at the first-ever Geisinger Games.

Humphrey the dog

Humphrey the therapy dog was a big hit at the games. He’s accompanied by his human, Dr. Lauren Nicholl, a palliative medicine physician at Geisinger Community Medical Center.

Students exercise room

Views of the student exercise room in the Medical Sciences Building’s new fourth-floor  Wellness Center.

The first annual Geisinger Games