In this month’s Spotlight, we talk with Eran Magen, Founder of My MD to Be, about his work with medical schools to improve student wellness. My MD to Be, in coordination with the schools, sends weekly emails to support-givers, keeping them updated on what students are doing and how to best support them. Receiving these emails from medical schools has proven to help students and their support-givers “meet in the middle” when it comes to communicating about what’s happening in med school. Read on to find out more.
Tell us how you came up with My MD To Be and share with us the passion behind it.
My MD To Be started close to six years ago. I’d been working with medical schools, students, and sometimes with faculty on relationship skills- how to build good, supportive relationships with patients, with each other, with students, and so on. In doing that work, I became much more familiar with life inside of med school.
At the time, my partner was going through her residency. I heard a lot of really difficult stories so I was trying to think, “What’s something that I could do to help with this? What’s a relational angle to solving this kind of stress and burnout in medical schools?”
At the time my partner became pregnant and we had signed up for this service called “Baby Center.” It’s the kind of thing where you sign up and, every week, it sends you an email and says, “Now your baby is the size of an artichoke. Your baby has eyelids but can’t open them yet but if you shine a light your baby can see them.” It was cool to get these things and one day as I was thinking about this, it all kind of came together. I thought, “What if we do a ‘baby center’ for medical students? What if we could help keep families informed about how medical students are doing every week so that they could stay connected?”
One of the big problems in medical school I had learned, and found, that was born by research as well, is that students get really disconnected from their organic support systems and these are the people that care most about them, know them best. These are the people that got them all the way to med school and then they slowly start drifting away. They do these weird activities. They speak this alien language. Then it just becomes annoying because people try to give advice and help about things medical students are going through, but the advice isn’t relevant or the med student has to explain herself over and over again.
All this came together for me and I thought, “Why don’t we just try to keep them better connected by informing them about what med students are doing and giving suggestions for how to actually be helpful.” And that was the start of My MD To Be.
Tell us more about My MD To Be and how it works.
My MD To Be is a service that informs whoever students consider their support givers about what the students are doing and how to be helpful to them.
If I’m a medical student, I can sign up through the school (the school will provide the service). I sign on to my account and then I say, “Here are my support givers: my two parents, my uncle, my dog recently got an email account, my friend, my spouse.” Whoever I want to put there. Once the people are on my support giver list, once a week everybody on that list, as well as med the student, gets an email about something current. It can be a curricular thing like just starting to do anatomy labs. What is this like? What are students experiencing typically when they go through this? What are helpful things to do? Send a care package with a Vicks Vapo Rub.
There are questions you can ask about the student process, what’s going on, curricular topics, or just general topics like experiencing imposter syndrome in medical school or financial stress in medical school or thinking about specialties or preparing for match day. So from start to finish every week, something will come out tied to the school’s curriculum about common student experiences that everybody receives.
How do you go about receiving these emails? Does it have to be through the medical school?
There are two versions. We’ve been working almost exclusively through the medical schools, so it would be exactly like you said. The medical school contacts us.
That’s one option. If you’re in a med school that uses the program, then you’re going to have access to it through the school.
Another is to go to the website and there you can sign up. There are different versions of accounts, but there’s a free version where you can sign up as a support giver or as a medical student. It won’t be tailored to the school’s curriculum because we don’t know the school’s curriculum, but if you’re signing up individually these resources will be roughly right because schools are roughly similar in their curriculum. But you can sign up either individually or through the school.
As far as benefit to the med student, the family, or loved one, what are the biggest benefits that you see of this email they receive?
For the students, every time we send out a resource, at the end it has this ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ that people can click. Then they can leave comments. We learn a lot from the comments in terms of which resources are helpful or what would be better. A lot of the comments are really just very heartwarming. One student put it best. He wrote, “This helps me start conversations from the middle. I don’t have to explain everything from the beginning over and over again.”
We spend a lot of time figuring out how to explain things that are happening in a way that’s just understandable to the general audience. We’re not trying to teach them medicine, right? But we are trying to explain what it’s like to go through a class or learning to do a physical exam. And getting to the part where you’re doing a physical exam in sensitive areas and how that’s difficult for some students and why. So having that explained to your people rather than you having to go through it is something that a lot of students find helpful.
Some students talk about how it helps them assert themselves to their families because our resources will say things like, this is an exam week they’re busy. They can’t communicate right now. Texting only. We get pretty specific and a lot of students express a lot of gratitude about that because they say that these are not things I can tell my family. We say, “Winter break is coming. Do not plan a ton of activities. Coordinate with your student. Your student may want to see a lot of people but may want to sleep. Check with your students before scheduling all the family members to rotate through the house.” Students express a lot of gratitude about these things.
These are the two main benefits: starting conversations from the middle and then helping them assert themselves when they need to.
The other benefit for the student, which we did not expect, was reading the resources is a very normalizing experience for them. We say, “As students go through this experience, a lot of students feel really excited because it kind of feels like being a doctor, but also very nervous because they’re being watched by a lot of people. They’re being graded.” For students to read this in advance before the experience, as they’re going through it, and see their experience written out, they think, “Great. I feel like this is a normal reaction to have.” Which it is.
From the support giver’s side, the most common [response] by far is when people say,”I now feel like I understand what my person is going through.” Whether it’s [a] spouse, my son, or my girlfriend. People just like knowing what their student is going through. People love knowing what and when to offer help and how to help concretely. There’s a sense of greater connection with this, which is a thing that, as a parent, is what we want with our kids: to feel like we understand what’s happening and we can imagine their activities.
I remember one particularly poignant piece of feedback when parents, who were posted overseas, wrote that it was tough for them to coordinate times to talk and to be really connected. Having these updates helped them understand what was happening, feel connected, but also, like the student was saying – start the conversations from the middle because they don’t have to [begin] with the details.
And the last thing for the support givers is just giving them things to actually talk about. Giving them pointers about how to talk with the student in the way that’s most helpful because a lot of the resources contain conversation starters for the support givers. Things like, so they started their clerkships, here’s some questions you can ask: What do you like about your clerkships? What’s challenging? Is this something you can imagine doing more of? Would you want to do this? Questions to start them off so they’re not just standing there wondering what to say. They have at least a place to [begin] from the conversation starters.
How can someone reach you to find out more?
My MD To Be is on Linkedin and also on Instagram. If you talk to your medical school or if your significant other, spouse, or loved one who is in medical school, have them talk to their medical school. Typically, there’s a wellness person inside the student affairs office.