A research project will be conducted as part of the program to evaluate implementation and outcomes. JCU Adjunct Lecturer Dr Paula Matich is a psychiatry registrar at Townsville University Hospital and the Hand-n-Hand Research Lead for the program. She says the evaluation of the program will include assessing mental health literacy, burnout and changes in psychological distress.
“The research element of this program will help in the ongoing evaluation of its effectiveness and allow necessary changes and adaptations to be made to ensure that the program is helpful and relevant to medical students,” Dr Matich says.
“We know that in terms of protecting people's mental health and promoting mental wellbeing that connection is so important. This program is about building that connection in medical students from their first year of training to the end of their degree. Hopefully, students will then carry that on in their work as doctors.”
JCU College of Medicine Dean Prof Sarah Larkins says the program will be an important additional layer of support for the medicine cohort.
“Our students undertake placements right across North Queensland and beyond. They're often away from family and friends and other support structures so this program is about providing another form of support by bringing students together,” Prof Larkins says.
“Here at JCU, it's really important for us to produce a mentally healthy workforce so that that health workforce can better serve the community.”
The peer to peer support program complements JCU’s existing services and resources aimed at supporting the mental health and well-being of students across the university.
“As a university as a whole, we offer programs such as mindfulness training and counselling and guidance services for students who are experiencing particular issues or problems.
“This program is different. It’s informal and it’s led by peers at the same level. It’s not a senior academic or senior health professional telling students what to do. In that way, it might provide a safe space for students who may be a little afraid to access other services,” Prof Larkins says.
Following implementation and evaluation, it’s hoped the program can be extended to provide support to students more broadly, including those in other health related courses.
“We have a lot of students who don't come from traditional university backgrounds necessarily, and we really want to optimise that support. So if we can make it work here, there might be many options for rolling it out nationwide,” Prof Larkins says.
This program is now available to all JCU medical students. To express your interest, complete the registration form.
JCU students can also access support to help cope with stress, address mental health concerns and access professional help.