A Retrospective on the MMSA Wellness Challenge

Medical school can often be challenging and even seem relentless at times, making it difficult to prioritize wellness. To start the new year on a strong note, the Max Rady College of Medicine joined other medical schools across the country in the Wellness Challenge. In January 2020, a team led by Rheann Brownstone (M2), Josie Cosyns (M1) and Kara Frejuk (M1) organized the challenge for over 100 medical students. Read on to learn more about the challenge as well as the importance of wellness as a medical student! 


What is the Wellness Challenge?

“The Wellness Challenge is an initiative that every medical school across Canada participates in throughout January and February. The idea is to start the year off with some new healthy habits that students can continue on throughout the year. Each year there are four weeks each representing a different pillar of wellness: mental health, physical health, nutritional health and social health. Students can participate in teams or as individuals, and the goal is to complete as many challenges as possible. At the end of the month, all of the points are added up and prizes are distributed. The prizes all have something to do with wellness, and some of the ones this year were passes to Yoga Public, gift cards to Thermea, massages and many more. This year we also added something new and we had everyone donate in order to be a part of the Wellness Challenge. All of the money raised went to Mood Disorders Manitoba. Additionally we had a spin class and all of the proceeds raised from that went to Seven Oaks Future Wellness Fund.”


Why is the Wellness Challenge important in general? 

“This Challenge is a way to remind people how important it is to maintain their own wellness, and not just wellness in the classic sense (like exercise and eating well) but also in ways like taking time for yourself without your phone, seeing friends, reading a book, trying something new – all things that are very important in maintaining good mental health.”


Why is the Wellness Challenge important for medical students?

“This Challenge is important as it helps motivate medical students to care about their wellness on top of the stress of medical school. With so much going on it is easy to stop doing things for your own health and wellness. Often people make a list of things to do and feel as though they don’t have time to do the things on the list that are for their own wellbeing and those are the first things to be off the list. This is dangerous as it leads to burnout in students and doctors who then cannot serve their patients as well. This Challenge shows people that it does not take that much time to throw in a few things a week that are just for them, and that you can still pass medical school while caring for yourself.”


How do you think the Wellness Challenge impacts students? 

“Based on what I have witnessed and heard, this month is very motivational and fun for people. At the end of the month, people want more group activities (such as the spin class we did this year) and many people tell me that they have incorporated a lot of the challenges into their everyday routine. Additionally, during the month it has people talking about healthy behaviours and how much better they feel.”


What lessons could be taken from the challenge moving forward? 

“Starting these habits in medical school will allow people to have a good foundation/routine going into residency and their career. Hopefully people have learned how to incorporate all types of wellness into their lives and will continue with the challenges beyond this one month. It also shows how motivating being on a team can be.”


What are some common misconceptions that students have about wellness? 

“I think that students think they don’t have enough time to do things for their wellness during medical school. I hope this month showed them that even just 30 minutes a day can be enough to improve your life. Students also tend to feel guilty when they are not studying. I hope this month showed them that taking time for yourself will actually allow you to be a more effective studier when you do sit down to do so!”


What were the most popular themes this year? 

“I think mental health was huge this year. One of the goals of this Challenge is to open up the conversation and get people more willing to talk about their mental health. I think especially due to the suicides that have occurred within the medical community this year we need to continue to implement programs and activities that help people maintain good mental health.”


What were some highlights from this year? 

“The spin class at Wheelhouse was incredible (thank you Josie)! We had a full class and everyone had an amazing time. It really brought medical students together and so many people have been asking to have another one. I also think just hearing all of the students being excited about the challenges and talking about them in the hall was awesome!”


Why did you choose to get involved in the Wellness Challenge? 

“One thing I pride myself on is having a good school-life balance. In medicine you could study 24 hours a day and still not know everything and I think it is important to realize that it is ok not to know everything. I am someone who makes sure I incorporate in my schedule going to the gym, seeing my friends and family, doing things I enjoy, walking my dog, traveling, etc. while still succeeding in school. I truly believe everyone and anyone can do this and I wanted to show that during this Wellness Month Challenge.”


How can other students get involved? 

“If you want to get involved as a med 1 you can apply to be co-lead with Kara and Josie next year. If you don’t want that much responsibility, you can always contact Kara or Josie to be a member of the committee. Also we are always looking for prize donations so if you or anyone you know wants to donate that is always appreciated.”


What are the top 3 things you would like others to take away from the Wellness Challenge? 

  1. “Everyone should sign up to participate as there is no down side! Even if you don’t win a prize it is very motivating to be in an environment with 100 other students also trying to improve their wellness.
  2. Just because we are in medical school does not mean we do not have time for wellness! If we start incorporating these habits now we will have a solid ground for when we are in residency and in our future careers.
  3. It is a great place to kickstart your wellness journey as you are motivated by amazing prizes ($300 to thermea, $400 to restaurants, wine baskets, massages, free gym memberships… must I go on?)”


The Wellness Challenge was a huge success this year, thanks to Rheann, Josie and Kara’s immense organization efforts, and the enthusiastic participation of our student body! Keep an eye out for the challenge in the new year! More great challenges and prizes to come! 


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