Reflections from the Dean: Refocusing on wellness

News & Events

Students doing yoga outside


As we begin to return to society — each of us determining the speed of our own reentry — I've decided to turn this month's column over to Melissa Piasecki, M.D., to discuss the importance of student and employee wellness. Dr. Piasecki serves as executive associate dean and professor of psychiatry and behavioral services for the University of Nevada Reno, School of Medicine. Her research is in implicit attitudes, and she has edited and co-edited texts on correctional psychiatry, communication skills and problem-based learning.

Take care,
Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D.

An important lesson taught by the COVID pandemic is the fragility and necessity of wellness. As physicians, educators, colleagues and humans, we need to increase our focus on wellbeing. It must be brought forward as a "front burner" topic, and we must devote time and resources to care for ourselves and for everyone in our campus community — learners, faculty and staff — as well as our wider communities — our families, friends and neighbors.

Research on clinician burnout prior to COVID was alarming. We know that medical students enter the profession with average or above average mental health; sadly, over the course of their careers, burnout symptoms increase and mental health decreases.

The COVID pandemic intensified some of the stressors already facing health profession students and clinicians: long hours, disrupted schedules, demanding clinical work and daily juggling of the obligations of work and life. Other "people professions" similarly reported high levels of burnout, with serious consequences. More broadly, we know that the rates of depression and anxiety were elevated in our state prior to COVID, and those rates rose throughout the pandemic.

While the pandemic undoubtedly accelerated these worrisome trends, we also saw examples of remarkable resilience. Despite the stress of uncertainties throughout the last phase of medical school, the UNR Med Class of 2021 matched into wonderful residencies. Throughout campus, faculty, students and staff rapidly mastered new teaching and learning technologies. Our residency programs filled, and our Office of Graduate Medical Education is prepared to welcome a new class of residents and fellows this month.

Going forward, how do we cultivate this type of resilience in our campus community? How do we continue to offer support and buffer the impact of our rapidly changing and complex world?

At UNR Med, we are building on a foundation of wellness support for medical students. Medical students are invited to a weekly student support meeting with a counselor specializing in helping medical professionals. Our Learning and Wellness Resource Center invites students to come by to "connect, decompress and chat" (with snacks!). The UNR Med Student Wellness Committee creates a calendar of wellness activities and produces a Monthly Howl newsletter focused on supporting students. Students and faculty collaborate on an innovative curriculum that integrates Acceptance and Commitment Training to build clinical skills in the domains of empathy and resilience.

In July, we'll open a new addition to UNR Med wellness support — the Wellness Room. Located in Savitt Medical Library, the Wellness Room is a private, quiet space that is available during library hours. Faculty, staff, residents and students can use this space for virtual appointments and other personal wellness activities, such as relaxation and meditation.

The campus-wide Wolf Pack Wellness and Work Symposium, which was hosted in March by the University's Department of Human Resources, brought two days of activities for faculty and staff to "relax, recharge and realign." Our medical school faculty and staff were both presenters and participants in this excellent symposium. Session recordings are available, and you don't have to be a University employee to learn tips for your wellbeing, behavioral strategies to improve sleep or how to deal with isolation and loneliness.

Earlier this year, the City of Reno partnered with Talkspace, a tele-mental health service. Reno residents ages 13+ are now able to connect with free private mental health support with a dedicated therapist. Video appointments and self-help exercises are available by visiting

There is, of course, much more to do. We need both small, daily, value-based actions that create webs of support across our campus and our community, as well as large-scale programs that offer person-centered support. We need to expand and evolve programs and spaces as we better understand our needs and the best ways to meet them.

I am inspired by our School of Medicine, our University and our community for what has been done and what is being planned to support wellness. As we regain our bearings after a global pandemic, we have new clarity in the importance of investing in our wellbeing. This clarity will help us build our shared commitments and actions to care for ourselves and each other.

Media Contacts

Julie Ardito, APR
Senior Director, Advancement and Engagement
Office: (775) 784-6006

Tessa Bowen, MPA
Communications Manager, Advancement and Engagement
Office: (775) 682-9254

The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Nevada's first public medical school, is a community-based, research-intensive medical school with a statewide vision for a healthy Nevada. Established in 1969, UNR Med is improving the health and well-being of all Nevadans and their communities through excellence in student education, postgraduate training and clinical care, research with local, national and global impact and a culture of diversity and inclusion.

Released: Monday June 7, 2021 @ 4:00 PM