Research on Preventing Student Burnout Presented at CENTILE Colloquium

Posted in GUMC Stories

June 24, 2016–The goal of the third annual CENTILE Colloquium was to share and discuss techniques for improving medical education, but for Donna Cameron, PhD, MPH what’s happening outside of the classroom is just as important as what is happening inside.

Cameron presented a poster based on her class, offered to first-year medical students, that aims to prevent burnout by helping participants create specific goals that culminate in a “life vision.”

“Medical students are often fearful that the chances of burnout will just get worse and worse with each passing year,” said Cameron. “This class is meant to arm them with tools to prevent that.”


The annual Center for Innovation and Leadership in Education Colloquium for GUMC educators is a full day of workshops, oral and poster presentations designed to share information about state-of-the art medical education techniques that have been successful. From teaching with simulation to peer education to online games, participants were exposed to a wide variety of strategies.

But, as Cameron says, no matter how innovative the teaching techniques, students need to be in a position to receive the information.

And to that end, Cameron aims to employ a resilience strategy to reverse a national trend: “Medical students nationwide have alarming rates of poor mental and physical quality of life such as depression, anxiety, and fatigue that can lead to dropping out of medical school, suicidal ideation or substance abuse.”


With the support of a CIRCLE grant, Cameron partnered with life coaches Laurie Dromerick and Laura English to battle this bleak outlook for medical students. They developed a pilot coaching program in which students were encouraged to imagine their life in five to ten years. Participants created an “I want circle,” writing what they do want in their life inside the circle and what they do not want outside.

“In articulating a life vision, it’s one thing to say ‘I want to be a doctor’ and another to say ‘this is what I want my life to look like after I complete my fellowships’,” said Cameron.

While it sounds simple, she says, “That was freeing to students because it gave a long-term goal that is realistic, and motivated them to reach their short-term goals.”

As part of the pilot, forty students participated in two group coaching sessions and two individual coaching sessions.


Cameron and Dromerick presented the preliminary results at the CENTILE Colloquium noting that “important factors that contribute to resilience include a clear vision of a desired life, concrete goals and identification of things to be avoided.”

A “desired life” for students in Cameron’s class includes health maintenance, travel, marriage and children. Many students identified loneliness, anxiety and dear as things to avoid.

“The pilot leads us to believe that coaching would be a good service to offer to all M1s, and ideally all medical students,” said Cameron.

CENTILE Success 

CENTILE steering commitee member Pamela A. Saunders, PhD, noted that this year’s robust contributions demonstrates the growing interest in advancing the education mission at GUMC. 

“We had two terrific workshops, 10 amazing papers and 16 phemomenal posters,” she said. 

Echoing her observations, CENTILE Director Aviad Haramati, PhD, said this year’s gathering met its goal once again as a mechanism for peer recognition of achievements in education.

“The Colloquium was a terrific opportunity to come together and learn from each other about ongoing innovations in our curricular planning, teaching and assessment, but also by participating in the hands-on workships that took place in the morning sessions,” he said. 

Leigh Ann Sham
GUMC Communications