Because the Graduate School cares about the physical and mental wellbeing of its students, it sponsors an impressive array of resources to promote and sustain good health. With a full-service health care and counseling facility on campus, extensive programming through McDougal Graduate Student Life, and access to fitness resources and work/life programs, graduate students can live well and stay healthy while earning their degrees.
All under one roof at the Yale Health Center at 55 Lock Street, students can get everything from nutrition counseling to eye exams, from allergy shots to physical therapy, from inpatient care to prescription refills. Feeling feverish? Acute Care at the Health Center is open 24/7. Stressed out? The Mental Health & Counseling Department can handle emergency and routine requests for help. Primary Care comes from the Student Health Department, and women get full-service gynecological care through the OB/GYN Department.
Yale Health has been recognized by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) for achieving the highest level of achievement as a Patient Centered Medical Home. All students (and most faculty and staff) get their primary health care at Yale Health, and besides being excellent, it’s free and convenient. There is no limitation for pre-existing conditions, and most preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services involve no deductibles and no claim forms. Graduate students can enroll their spouses, civil union partners, and legally dependent children under the age of nineteen in Yale Health.
This fall, to introduce incoming students to what Yale Health offers, McDougal Wellness Fellows Kevin Callender (Psychology) and Cathy Le (Public Health) organized a series of tours during orientation week.
“We ran about 24 half-hour tours of the Yale Health Center for incoming graduate and professional students,” Kevin recalls. “The tours served to familiarize students with the facilities and departments, as well as to educate students about what care is available, how they can seek care, and how their health insurance plan works. We hope that the tours helped students use the Yale health system more knowledgeably and efficiently, resulting in better health outcomes and reduction of wasteful spending. Given the success of the tours, we plan on continuing and expanding upon them next year!”
The Wellness Fellows coordinated many other events, as well. In November, they organized a “Building Resilience” program, inviting a psychologist to HGS to talk about how to deal with the psychological issues students sometimes face. David Klemanski, director of Yale Anxiety and Mood Services at Yale Health, taught techniques for coping with stress and discouragement and explained the resources Yale Health offers to deal with emotional issues. He made it clear to the participants “that they’re not alone in their struggles,” Kevin says, and the techniques he taught were “evidence-based.”
As a psychology student, Kevin has strong professional interest in these issues, and chose to be a Wellness Fellow because of his commitment to promoting mental health.
“Graduate school can be an extremely stressful period, and some programs can be quite isolating, removing students from networks of social support,” he says. Despite these stressors, “students greatly underutilize the free mental health care available to them. I wanted to serve the graduate and professional community in a way that would promote psychological well-being both directly, by disseminating information about mental health and hygiene techniques, and indirectly, by creating opportunities for social support through events.”
Cathy’s involvement with the McDougal Center gives her a sense of community. “As a professional student on the southern end of campus, I often felt isolated from other graduate and professional students on the main campus. Being able to participate in McDougal Center activities provided an opportunity for me to meet students outside my program area, opening up a social avenue that served as an outlet to the stresses related to academic life,” she says.
Even a cursory glance at the Graduate School’s calendar shows that almost every day something is scheduled that fights isolation by bringing students together to socialize and build professional skills. The same week as the resilience workshop, there was a lecture and reception sponsored by the Dean, a screening and sing-along of the film Grease, “Late Night at the Gym” for graduate and professional students, a knitting club meeting, a scientific paper-writing workshop, and a bagel brunch. McDougal Social Fellows Maggie Bennewitz and Jennifer Saucier-Sawyer (both Engineering & Applied Science) organize many such events, including the incredibly popular Winter Ball (see photos).
In February, when romance and chocolate are in the air, Kevin and Cathy held “Sex and Chocolate After Dark,” a post-Valentine’s Day program. As participants mingled and nibbled at some 100 pounds of chocolate, they were invited to text-message questions about sex and relationships, which were answered in real-time by Dr. James Perlotto, chief of student medicine at Yale Health. Questions and answers were projected onto a large screen, so people could not only ask their own questions anonymously but also view the answers to other people’s questions.
"Eating Your Way Around the World," was another successful program run by the Wellness Fellows, working together with the International Fellows. This event focused on how to prepare healthy snacks “using ingredients from different cultures in an effort to encourage healthy and nutritious diets,” Cathy says.
Caitlyn Stockus is the Health Educator at Yale Health who works most closely with the Wellness Fellows. “I am extremely pleased with the collaboration between the McDougal Center and the success of the wellness programs,” she says. “This partnership allows Yale Health staff to participate in outreach events and become familiar with the graduate and professional student community.”
One program Stockus is especially excited about is the Wellness Ambassador Program. This year, the McDougal Wellness Fellows recruited twelve student volunteers from graduate and professional schools across campus.
“The Fellows meet with the Ambassadors regularly, plan events, and communicate the events in their schools, allowing us to reach students who otherwise may not have been aware of the programs,” Stockus says. “Currently, we are gearing up for the annual Spring Chill Out, an event sponsored by the McDougal Center and the Student Wellness Office.”
This stress-reduction event during Reading Week includes free massages, healthy snacks, and games, inviting students to “take a break, have fun and relax during this rather stressful time. It is a great opportunity for Yale Health staff to talk with students and their families,” Stockus says. Spring Chill Out is Thursday, April 26, in HGS Courtyard (or in the McDougal Center if it rains).
Everyone knows that exercise is important for good health. Yale gives all students free gym membership year-round that includes access to the Payne Whitney Gymnasium’s fitness center; swimming pools; running tracks; squash, basketball, and badminton courts; graduate and professional student intramural sports; competitive club sports (cricket, rugby, volleyball, field hockey, figure skating, and others); and fitness classes. Besides the many options available at Payne Whitney, graduate students can use the Yale golf course, Ingalls Rink, the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center, the McNay Family Sailing Center, and in summer, the Outdoor Education Center, located on a mile-long lake deep in the woods in East Lyme. Two McDougal Fellows are specifically assigned to organizing events that encourage students to get up and get active, and these are Sports and Recreation Fellows Alyssa Siefert and Kevin Nay Yaung (both Engineering & Applied Science). Their programs range from intramural sports to self-defense, from yoga classes to golf clinics and bowling outings.
Other McDougal Fellows provide programs that enhance students’ health and well-being. The Family Fellows, Katie and Patrick Egan (EPH) and Kerra Bui Partney and Keith Partney (Psychology), collaborate with the Wellness Fellows and the Worklife Program Office to provide events that teach healthy eating, parenting skills, and how to find balance between the challenges of work and personal life.
This year, the McDougal Student Life office inaugurated Religious and Spiritual Life Fellows, who work with the University Chaplain’s Office to promote spiritual wellness and work/life balance, as well as interfaith events. One recent program organized by Fellows Sarah Kopman-Fried (Law) and Griffin Oleynick (Italian) was called “Inner Piece of Pizza” and combined the aforementioned edible with guided meditation.
Being fit and active and healthy is the ideal, of course, but what happens if that’s impossible? What if a student breaks a leg skiing, for example? The Resource Office on Disabilities (ROD) can arrange rides on the Special Service bus to get students where they need to go. If a student arrives at Yale with a permanent disability or incurs one while here, The ROD will identify and obtain the necessary equipment so that the student can continue to advance to degree. The ROD has provided ergonomic keyboards, voice recognition systems, sit-stand workstations, electronic reading machines, and more, for students with temporary and permanent needs.
One happy health-related event is the arrival of a new baby. Judging from the number of babes in arms, toddlers, and children who go onstage with mom or dad at Commencement, it is clear that a number of graduate students start their families while at Yale. Not only does Yale Health provide outstanding medical care for mother and child (including classes and workshops on breastfeeding and parenting), and not only does the Graduate School host lots of family-friendly activities, but there is a Parental Leave Policy in place that offers both male and female doctoral students up to a semester of financial support and relief from academic duties on the occasion of the birth or adoption of each child. One’s term of study is also frozen for the term of the relief, so as not to penalize the new parent for taking a semester off. PhD students’ health awards cover the full cost of single-student Yale Health Hospitalization/Specialty Coverage, half the cost of the spouse/partner two-person premium fee, and the full cost for family coverage that includes dependent children.
“Students sometimes forget that they have to do something for themselves outside of academia,” says Wellness Fellow Cathy Le. “The resources available through the McDougal Center for Student Life and Yale Health really support the well-being of graduate and professional students.”
As Lisa Brandes, director of Student Life is fond of saying, “‘Graduate Student Life’ is not an oxymoron!”