The support of student wellbeing features highly in all higher education institutional agendas. For medical students good physical and mental health can help prevent burnout, equip students for their future healthcare setting and indirectly improve patient care. At the University of Nottingham (UK), we were keen to explore undergraduate medical students perceived wellbeing before, during, and after an early years' (years 1-3) curriculum change. A restructure of the curriculum enabled personal wellbeing sessions to be embedded and directly linked to the pastoral support system.
Students' perceived wellbeing was assessed through a questionnaire distributed to three cohorts of first year students at the start and end of the autumn semester.
The data showed a clear improvement of perceived physical health at the end of the first semester following the curriculum change, alongside increased mood and ability to relax. A surprising outcome of this study was that students reported increased stress levels at the end of the semester, which we believe may be attributed to the change in assessment within the new curriculum. Our medical students are now facing end of year summative examinations, but are acutely aware of their progress as they undertake frequent formative assessments during the year. We propose that comparison of performance with peers is having a direct impact on perceived stress in these cohorts.
The study has shown that embedding wellbeing in the curriculum can have positive effects even within a changing curriculum. The importance of evolving wellbeing provision and support based on the needs of the student population is essential and probably never more in need than at this moment in time.