COVID-19 Advice for the JCU Community - Last updated: 5 May 2022, 3pm (AEST)

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Written By

Andrew Cramb

College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

10 May 2020

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Med students put their hands up for peer support

JCU College of Medicine and Dentistry has partnered with Hand-n-Hand Peer Support to launch a student-led peer support program for the medicine cohort in May 2022. Students have rallied around the new initiative, putting their hands up to support one another and help develop coping strategies as they prepare to enter the medical profession.

The peer support program will be led by students, for students. Groups of students will meet regularly to support each other during their degrees to provide a safe and confidential space to discuss relevant topics and issues. Student facilitators will be selected and trained to enable the discussions and appropriate support.

Founded by JCU Alumnus and 2022 Queensland Young Australian of the Year Dr Tahnee Bridson in 2020, Hand-n-Hand is a free and confidential peer support program for health professionals in Australia and New Zealand. What began as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the emotional and mental toll that came with it, continued as a valuable ongoing support mechanism beyond the pandemic.

The Beyond Blue National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students in 2020 highlighted the increased burden of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety in the medical profession compared to the general population.

JCU Medical Students Association (JCUMSA) President and sixth-year student, Bianca Johnson, said there had been a fantastic response to the program from her fellow students.

"We're very excited to partner with Hand-n-Hand to have peer-led support groups.

“The medical profession can be a highly competitive environment and we believe that the Hand-n-Hand program will help develop a more supportive environment where medical students are willing to discuss concerns without fear of judgment,” Bianca says.

Key figures at the Hand-n-Hand Launch
Students at the Hand-n-Hand peer support program launch
Left: JCU College of Medicine and Dentistry Dean Prof Sarah Larkins, JCUMSA President Bianca Johnson and Hand-n-Hand Student Program Research Lead Dr Paula Matich at the launch. Right: JCU Medicine students supporting the peer support program at the launch

Enhancing the impact of the program through research

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.

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