Aim: The purpose of this pilot intervention study was to evaluate the feasibility, acceptability and preliminary short-term effects of a wellness on-boarding program for health sciences students, including dentistry, health and rehabilitation sciences, medicine, nursing, optometry, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine, on their healthy lifestyle beliefs and behaviors four months after the intervention.
Methods: A pre-experimental study was conducted with 91 health sciences students at a major public land grant University in the mid-west region of the United States. Within two to four weeks after commencing the first semester academic programs, students completed a personalized wellness assessment, a biometric screen that included height, weight, blood pressure, Hemoglobin A1c and lipid panel, and developed a personalized wellness plan. Valid and reliable measures included the Healthy Lifestyles Belief Scale, the Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors Scale, the Personalized Health Assessment-9 Scale for depression, and the Generalized Anxiety Scale-7. Demographic questions and single item questions regarding healthy lifestyle behaviors (e.g., activity and sleep) also were collected. At the end the first semester, a follow-up assessment was completed.
Results: At baseline, 25.6% of the graduate students reported elevated symptoms of depression and 22.6% reported elevated symptoms of anxiety. At follow-up, 28.1% of students reported elevated depressive symptoms and 22.9% reported elevated symptoms of anxiety. Although there was no change in healthy lifestyle beliefs across time, there was a significant decrease in healthy lifestyle behaviors (p<.05) as well as a drop in physical activity from a mean of 51 minutes per week to 32 minutes. Average hours of sleep across time stayed consistent at six hours. The most frequent barriers student reported that deterred them from engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors and meeting their wellness goals were time constraints, school, and motivation.
Conclusions: There is a need for more intensive wellness interventions with health sciences students when entering their professional programs. Personalized wellness assessments and completion of a personalized wellness plan alone does not seem to be enough to increase their healthy lifestyle behaviors. Screening for depression and anxiety should occur with all health sciences students when entering their programs and monitored regularly, with targeted evaluations and interventions provided to those with elevated symptomatology. Since the follow-up assessment, nurse practitioner students have been assigned to these health sciences students to serve as health coaches during their second academic semester along with the texting of healthy lifestyle messages. Another follow-up assessment will occur at the end of the second semester to determine the benefits of adding a health coach to the health sciences’ students’ wellness programming. Future intervention studies need to be conducted with this population to determine the best evidence-based interventions to enhance health and wellness outcomes.