National Survey of Wellness Programs in U.S. and Canadian Medical Schools

Acad Med. 2021 May 1;96(5):728-735. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003953.


Purpose: To describe the prevalence and scope of wellness programs at U.S. and Canadian medical schools.

Method: In July 2019, the authors surveyed 159 U.S. and Canadian medical schools regarding the prevalence, structure, and scope of their wellness programs. They inquired about the scope of programming, mental health initiatives, and evaluation strategies.

Results: Of the 159 schools, 104 responded (65%). Ninety schools (93%, 90/97) had a formal wellness program, and across 75 schools, the mean full-time equivalent (FTE) support for leadership was 0.77 (standard deviation [SD] 0.76). The wellness budget did not correlate with school type or size (respectively, P = .24 and P = .88). Most schools reported adequate preventative programming (62%, 53/85), reactive programming (86%, 73/85), and cultural programming (52%, 44/85), but most reported too little focus on structural programming (56%, 48/85). The most commonly reported barrier was lack of financial support (52%, 45/86), followed by lack of administrative support (35%, 30/86). Most schools (65%, 55/84) reported in-house mental health professionals with dedicated time to see medical students; across 43 schools, overall mean FTE for mental health professions was 1.62 (SD 1.41) and mean FTE per student enrolled was 0.0024 (SD 0.0019). Most schools (62%, 52/84) evaluated their wellness programs; they used the Association of American Medical Colleges Graduation Questionnaire (83%, 43/52) and/or annual student surveys (62%, 32/52). The most commonly reported barrier to evaluation was lack of time (54%, 45/84), followed by lack of administrative support (43%, 36/84).

Conclusions: Wellness programs are widely established at U.S. and Canadian medical schools, and most focus on preventative and reactive programming, as opposed to structural programming. Rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of programs on student well-being is needed to inform resource allocation and program development. Schools should ensure adequate financial and administrative support to promote students' well-being and success.

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Female
  • Health Promotion / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Schools, Medical / organization & administration*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Young Adult