The societal challenges faced by students and young people in general have become increasingly important in recent decades. Social media, a higher standard of living and more demands on oneself have led to a decline in young people's mental health. Also from students at the medical faculty, says Marjolein van de Pol, director of the Medicine programme and appointed professor of Student Well-being and Lifelong Learning. 'These challenges lead to a lot of study drop-outs and personal suffering.'
Within the medical programme, there is increasing attention for student well-being. And that is important, according to Van de Pol. She links student well-being to lifelong learning: 'Well-being is a prerequisite for good development. If you are not feeling well at a certain moment, you are not able to learn and develop. While that is especially important in healthcare. We face enormous challenges in view of the ageing population and shortages in the labour market. I hope we can prepare students for that future. It is precisely in these circumstances that we want students to learn to take care of themselves in a sustainable and resilient way, so that they can do the same as professionals later on.'
Speak the same language
It is crucial to establish a shared understanding of well-being in this context. In a previous research investigation, Van de Pol analyzed the terminology employed by students and educators. It turned out that there were major differences, resulting in miscommunication. ' To illustrate, students expressed feeling stressed when confronted with both an exam and an assignment, while teachers perceived this stress as academic in nature. However, our research findings indicated that the situation extended beyond mere study-related stress or organizational challenges. Rather, it revealed that their lives were so packed that accommodating two significant assignments became unfeasible, thereby causing a heightened overall stress level. '
As a consequence of this study, the field of education has increasingly recognized the importance of articulating emotions and situations. "For us to effectively support students in their well-being, establishing a common language is a fundamental prerequisite. We equip them with additional tools. Consequently, education finds itself on more fertile ground." The research on student well-being and educational practices in this area are deeply intertwined. Van de Pol aims to advance in this direction through design research. "When you encounter a roadblock, it's crucial to precisely identify the issue and concurrently develop practical solutions. This iterative process allows us to propel education and student well-being to the next level."
Student well-being in the master
In June 2023, Van de Pol received one of the Dutch Education Prizes, the highest distinction within higher education. With this, she wants to further embed student well-being in the education of the medical faculty. In the Bachelor's programme, the first three years of the programme, this is already a long-term learning trajectory. This means that during all these years attention has been paid to the well-being of students, through individual interviews, group assignments and elective courses. In the coming years, she will also introduce this for the Master's phase of Medicine, including the internships. This requires further research. 'We focus on the question: what exactly does the concept of well-being mean for this group of students? We want to know even better what we need to focus on in order to positively influence student well-being. And also how students can do that themselves. Because well-being is a basic condition for lifelong learning.'
Van de Pol is also working on knowledge dissemination, she is working on a textbook for teachers, which is not only relevant within medicine, but also far beyond. Finally, in the coming years, she wants to strengthen the scientific basis of education about well-being at Radboud university medical center. 'Education is the foundation of the future. We have to organise this properly. We see that attention to student well-being pays off. It contributes to how good students feel, it leads to a positive learning attitude and it gives better study results.'
Marjolein van de Pol studied Medicine in Nijmegen (cum laude) and specialized as a general practitioner. Since 2010 she has been affiliated with Radboud university medical center and Radboud University, where she obtained her PhD on education about geriatric medicine and joint decision-making (title thesis: 'Health professionals for an ageing society: transforming medical education. A mixed methods approach'). In the years that followed, she specialized in educational development and management. Since 2017, Van de Pol has been director of Medical education, a position she combines with clinical work in general practice and her role as a teacher. She is lead author of the most recent, national framework for medical training. She is also chair of the NFU Education Committee on Medicine. The Chair of Student well-being and Lifelong Learning will start for a period of five years from 1 October 2023.