School can be overwhelming, especially medical school. But Stanford Medicine offers many different forms of mental health support, including a peer-to-peer support program for medical students called Ears 4 Peers. To learn more, I spoke with Dina Wang-Kraus, MD, a Stanford psychiatry and behavioral sciences resident and co-founder of the program.
What inspired you to start the Ears 4 Peers program?
In 2012, I was a first-year medical student and I was noticing that a significant number of my classmates were experiencing compassion fatigue and burnout. We were encouraged to reach out to the counseling and psychology services but there was some hesitancy, either from busy schedules or anxieties surrounding stigma. So, Norma Villalon, MD, and I decided to found a peer-to-peer support program. I started a similar program in college at Johns Hopkins, called A Place to Talk.
The hope was to have near-peers — those who were just walking in your shoes — provide support. Our goal was to bridge the distance students often feel when in a competitive, challenging situation. We may have been adults in our mid-20s to 40s, but we were only in the infancy of our training.
Rebecca Smith-Coggins, MD, is our faculty adviser and leader. From day one, she's believed in our cause.
What are some issues the program addresses?
We receive calls regarding issues like academic stress, interpersonal relationship conflicts, imposter syndrome, intimate partner violence, Stanford Duck syndrome and suicidal thoughts. We also receive calls from students feeling lonely, disconnected and homesick, especially around finals, holidays and medical board exams. And some students call hoping to be referred for additional support.
How are Ears 4 Peers mentors selected and trained?
Ears 4 Peers mentors are nominated by their peers or self-nominated. They complete an application to tell us more about themselves, what draws them to this type of work and what they hope to gain from the experience.
We’re very lucky to have the support of Alejandro Martinez, PhD, the Stanford associate dean of students. He and his team designed a curriculum specifically for Stanford School of Medicine.
What role do you play in the program now?
As a resident, I’ve transitioned out of being an official Ears 4 Peers mentor but I continue to remain actively involved in near-peer mentoring for medical students. Two years ago as an intern in psychiatry, I worked with Jessi Gold, MD, to inaugurate Stanford’s Medical Student Reflection Groups. Each group is made up of four to 10 medical students who commit to joining for six to 12 months. We meet every other week, and groups are facilitated by psychiatry residents trained in group therapy and psychotherapy. As resident physicians, we remain near-peers; however, we’re able to facilitate a different kind of support and personal growth given our psychiatry training.
Stanford students are welcome to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
What advice can you give medical students and residents?
I recall medical school to be an exhilarating time, but it also felt like I was drinking from Niagara Falls, one cup at a time. There were times when I felt overwhelmed and even burnt out.
We see a lot of beauty and humility in medicine, but there are also times when we see a lot of tragedy and suffering. Having peer-support, knowing that I was not alone, was empowering and liberating — and it continues to be.
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