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Health, Wellness and Perseverance

Health, Wellness and Perseverance

Bryan Rosenberg started medical school intent on embracing ways to keep himself physically and mentally healthy despite the demands of rigorous coursework. He found a way to strike that balance, and it was partly due to his determination to help others do the same.

With faculty and other students supporting his cause, Rosenberg became so fascinated by the benefits of healthy lifestyle choices that it led to the creation of RU Well, the first student group at Rush University aimed at promoting health and wellness.

Rosenberg, now entering his second year at Rush Medical College, recently talked about his background, the success of RU Well and how Rush has provided an atmosphere where his ideas can thrive.

Tell us about your background.

Bryan Rosenberg: I was born in Chicago and went to high school in the northern suburbs before attending Northwestern for my undergraduate work. At that point, I already knew I was going to apply to medical school. But unlike most other pre-med tracks, I chose a different type of major, environmental science. I thought there was an interesting tie-in between human health and the environment and all these environmental issues that affect the human body.

After earning my bachelor’s, I took a one-year break from school and spent that time in health care consulting. I worked for a group that went to hospitals and worked on quality and patient satisfaction and improving hospital flow. So I was able to see health care from the business side, which I don't think many physicians really get to see. It gave me a unique perspective on what goes into the business side of health care, and I'm hoping that gives me good perspective as I continue through medical school. But I'm happy to now be focusing on the clinical side of things.

What made you want to become a physician?

BR: Medicine has always been on my mind. My dad is a doctor and my mom is a nurse, but they never went out of their way to encourage me to consider medicine. They wanted me to do what I wanted. I’ve always wanted a career where I could challenge myself while also getting to know people and understand their stories and form lasting connections with them. I also have a love of science, so the field of medicine has always made sense for me.

After I decided to major in environmental science, it was so clear that there were all of these links between environmental hazards, like toxins and pollutants, that were causing severe human health outcomes — whether it’s in individual people or communities or entire countries. That fascinated me and made me angry, so it just drove me even more to want to be a part of the solution.

What drew you to Rush?

BR: When I was applying to medical school, I was positive I was not going to stay in Chicago. Not that I don't love Chicago, but I thought it might be good to experience life somewhere else. Then I applied to Rush and interviewed there, and it was an amazing experience — the  atmosphere was terrific. The people were fun and really happy, and you could tell there was a lot of passion about teaching, quality of care and giving back to the community.

All of the other schools I applied to talked about their involvement with the community, but at Rush you really feel it. We’re so involved in the West Side of Chicago, and I really wanted to participate in all of these amazing initiatives.

At Rush, I got the sense that if you really want to do something and you push hard for it, you can make it happen. And it has worked out with RU Well, the student wellness group I started. I had other options in different states, but Rush was an exciting opportunity. I just couldn't say no.

Tell us more about the wellness group you created.

BR: You go to medical school knowing it's an extremely hard four years that includes a ton of work. There's a lot of stress, and it can consume your life. When I started med school, I wanted to balance all aspects of my life — physical health, mental health and emotional health. So I started meditating and followed that up with some reflecting and writing at the end of each day. These little things helped remind me that I was OK and can persevere when life seems overwhelming.

I started to realize that almost every medical student grapples with the same issues, so I  started a casual group with a couple of classmates. We would run together, work out, meditate and cook. I noticed that getting away from school and focusing on our mental and physical wellness left everyone smiling, relaxed and happy. That helped us focus on studying, because we were in a good place mentally, physically and emotionally.

I felt like this could be beneficial for so many other students, so I coordinated with faculty and other students and formed Rush’s first student organization focused on health and wellness. Audrey Blazek, who is entering her second year at Rush Medical College, was integral in helping me develop RU Well. We started in January 2019 and already have more than 100 members — not just medical students but also students from all four of Rush’s colleges. There's been so much support.

We meet once a month and focus on one topic. Sessions have so far been led by faculty and clinicians at Rush, and topics have ranged from mindfulness meditation to nutrition and strategies for getting better sleep.

Also, a wellness curriculum is being implemented at the medical school that will focus on a variety of wellness topics, and RU Well is playing a role. RU Well will host an informal, student-led session outside of class hours where students can come to discuss the topic in a more casual and open setting. We are trying to promote student cohesion while being mindful that these are sensitive topics that require a variety of arenas for discussion.

I didn't realize how big this would become, but it just shows how important the topic is to people. I want to keep moving the group forward and make it bigger and better so that even more students and faculty take part and think about their health and wellness in the context of improving health care and health care education.

What have been your greatest takeaways from the group so far?

BR: If something is really important to you, keep pushing. Eventually you’ll find a way to make it happen. Rush provides an environment where they're open to ideas and willing to make things happen.

Also, I’ve gained an even better understanding of the importance of health and wellness to being successful in the health professions. As health sciences students and clinicians, we shouldn't be preaching about health and wellness to patients if we aren't actually practicing it ourselves. How can we tell people to make positive changes in their lives if we’re not even doing them ourselves? This is something that needs to be focused on in order to provide better care to our patients and also be healthier and better people ourselves.