This gorgeous photgraph is the cover of the First Volume of the College of Pharmacy Review, University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy, Duluth Campus. (The Second Volume was just published.)
A few months back, just as COVID was first hitting the US, I had the pleasure of sitting down for a Skype interview with Julia Rumley and Karen Bastianelli. Julia is a Pharmacy student, and Karen is a Pharmacy Professor, at University of Minnesota Duluth Campus’ College of Pharmacy.
They had a story to tell about stress, and what they were doing about it. And what they did is more than a ‘feel good’ gesture – though it just may make you feel good.
This student-led project is one event in a series of efforts to reduce competition, and encourage community, at the CoP. They see addressing student stress as related to addressing clinician well-being.
Hear their story here, and read the transcript below.
How about some good news? In today’s episode, I talk to pharmacy student Julia Rumley and pharmacy professor Dr. Karen Bastianelli about a student-led project to help address stress on campus. This project, it turns out, reflects larger systemic efforts to move away from competition, and toward community, at this College.
This is 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel. Julia, Karen welcome to the show!
Julia: Thanks for having us.
Karen: Thank you very much. Nice to be here.
Anne Marie: Julia is a graduate of Grinnell College and a third year Pharmacy student at the University of Minnesota. Karen is a Doctor of Pharmacy and Associate Professor at University of Minnesota’s College of Pharmacy. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and what you do? Julia, want to go first?
Julia: Sure! I’m a Pharmacy student as you mentioned. And ever since College I’ve always wondered about my role could be in bridging medicine and art.
AML: And Dr. Bastianelli?
Karen: I was a community pharmacist for 15 years. And then I had the opportunity to have a midlife career change, and I’ve been involved with the College of Pharmacy for the last 15 years.
AML: Thanks, Thanks for that. Now Julia you’ve been witnessing or encountering a problem among the pharmacy students. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Julia: Yeah definitely. I think it’s something that anyone in Academia could really relate to. I think there’s a lot of anxiety and a lot of stress in being a student–I’m sure and being a faculty member as well. We get so, we get so busy and we get so bogged down in competing with each other and competing with ourselves.
AML: And this the anxiety and stress isn’t just limited to Pharmacy students right?
Karen: Oh gosh no any student certainly has those stressors. Then it also progresses into when we’re practitioners as well
AML: So Julia what did you decide to do about this?
Julia: So basically one day Dr. Bastianelli and I were able to get together and we just got to talking about, about how school was going. And I was just telling her how stressed I was basically. And we ultimately came to the decision that we wanted to create a space where we could all put aside our competition and put aside our academic–our academic goals and our academic conversation, to share our talents and celebrate our hopes for each other, so that we can motivate each other, and connect to each other as individuals with very unique identities.
AML: So what did you do how did you make the space for that to happen?
Julia: We decided to make a book. We decided to invite students, faculty, staff, everyone in our College of Pharmacy to contribute works. And these could be photographs, sketches, inspirational quotations, to the review so that we could share with each other the things that bring us the most Joy. I was very much inspired by the Grinnell College Review which is also a student-run student-produced magazine. And we did this because I think that so many of us grapple with so much in our lives throughout pharmacy school. A lot of us have experienced a lot of loss and failure, alongside a lot of success and personal growth. And I think sometimes we don’t have the time to take a step back and reflect and share all that progress with each other. And we are not always able to find the time to figure out how each of our stories fits into the larger Narrative of how we develop as a community at the College of Pharmacy. I discovered that students have a lot of really secret hobbies, and these were things I was able to dig up in conversations.
AML: Now clinician well-being and burnout is a real issue across the Health Professions. And I think people can be rightly skeptical of Wellness activities that seem to just touch on the surface of issues. Is there more to this?
Karen: It’s been a progression over the years certainly. We have moved to more group projects. So we’ve moved away from the point system. My class is actually pass/fail. Because we want students to focus on the skill development, and not arguing points for doing different technical things. So it’s it’s been a progression. Some of the students like it; some of them don’t. When you move a class to pass fail, you’re taking away that “A” carrot. And with the competition that our students sometimes feel, that could be an issue for some. But we really want to focus on those skills that make a good practitioner. And 50% of our class material has to do with building those communication skills.
AML: So you came up with the idea for this project. How did it go? What happened?
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Julia: Yeah we actually just completed the project and were able to share it with everyone who contributed, as well of the entire student body and faculty and staff. We got a lot of very interesting, very diverse Works. Some students gave us photographs of very everyday scenes, maybe just a bench at a park that they were visiting, or just a scene on a bus that they were riding on the way to school, maybe on the way back. Other students sent us photographs of trips that that they had taken, or cool things that they had seen on these trips.
AML: So through this process of taking this Project from the conceptualization through to completion, what have you learned? Karen, do you want to go first?
Karen: Certainly. My–the biggest takeaway that I got from the contributions was, it just reiterated the fact that how talented our students are. I had no idea some of them could sketch like that or had such a wonderful photographic eye for seeing things. But really it was, it was good to see the students taking that time–and faculty and staff who contributed–that they took that time to, to have those activities and those passions and to share them with others. I think it helped to really build that sense of community.
AML: Julia how about you? What’s something that you learned, going through the process?
Julia: I think there were two specific things that I learned. The first is that it’s really difficult for people to open up and share their creative side sometimes. I think we’re all so used to, as students, competing with each other–and not necessarily in an unhealthy way. But we’re so caught up in making ourselves look really professional, and not flawed. And something like artwork is sort of inherently showing flaws sometimes. That people really stressed being anonymous with some of the works. Even like pulling me aside in person, and saying like, “I really really do not want my name attached to this,” and that was very interesting to me to see that. Other students I think really jumped at the opportunity. The second thing that I learned from in this project was that I expected–when I was putting together the project and brainstorming for it, I was coming from a place of a lot of frustration and exhaustion. And I expected a lot of students to have that same perspective in approaching their submissions. And the students that I talked to in person who later submitted were definitely in agreement with me with those frustrations. But instead I think what people ended up submitting were really beautiful artworks that had less to do with their shortcomings, and more to do with what they wanted to become in the future. So there was one specific artwork that really spoke to me. Well, there were, okay so let’s go over two. One of, one of the works was a poem written by a student and it had themes of suicide in it, I think from his past. But he added at the bottom of this poem that he wanted to share this with his name attached, because he really wanted others to know that they could make it through as well, if they were ever in the same position. I thought that was very beautiful. Another work that was submitted was submitted by a woman who was planning to create this sort of angsty collage of “all these failures don’t equate me,” and “I’m not a number” this kind of, this kind of sentiment. And instead what she ended up submitting was a really beautiful sketch of herself as a pharmacist.
AML: So do you have any advice? I mean what would you tell people who are either themselves kind of feeling the stress, feeling the overwhelm. Or maybe, those people who think this is a good idea and want to try something like this in their programs?
Julia: So for the people who are feeling overwhelmed and haven’t approached creative projects as a means to deal with that stress, sometimes what you’re creating in your free time, even if it’s historically been for yourself, you never know the impact that it can have on others. And for those who are pursuing similar projects, and wanting to sort of create a collaborative space, I would say that you really only see one aspect of people sometimes in a classroom setting, or in a work setting. But a lot of people do have things that they want to share; they just haven’t found the right medium yet.
AML: Karen, did you have anything to add?
Karen: As a practitioner I think it’s important for us, and for students to learn for when they become practitioners, to take that time to spend on these creative projects. Whether it’s music or art or sketching–whatever your passions lay–to take that time for your own well-being so that then you are in a better space to take care of others.
AML: Thank you Julia Rumley, Dr. Karen Bastianelli from University of Minnesota’s College of Pharmacy. Thank you for being on the show today.
Karen: Thank you for having us.
Julia: Yes, thank you.
AML: This has been 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel.