New Wellness Ambassadors Program Reminds Students that Wellness is for Everyone

Dec 11, 2019
Ciara Parsons

SHINE Wellness Ambassador Program

In  a patient-centric profession focused on treating and monitoring the well-being of others, physicians and medical trainees can sometimes forget that their wellness matters, too. To help reinforce the lesson that wellness is for a everyone, a student-run group called Student Health Initiatives and Education (SHINE) is preparing to launch a new pilot program. It will position trained medical students to serve as ‘wellness ambassadors' who can help their peers navigate the variety of resources available to them.

Faculty of Medicine writer Ciara Parsons spoke with second-year MD students Natalie Phung, SHINE’s Wellness Ambassador program director, and Anna Chen, SHINE’s general coordinator, about the purpose of the program, how students can access services and why they were motivated to develop a peer wellness resource navigation.

What does the abbreviation ‘SHINE’ represent?

SHINE stands for Student Health Initiatives and Education. We are a student-run group affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto. Our mandate is to promote student wellness, academic skill development and career exploration in collaboration with the Office of Health Professions Student Affairs (OHPSA) and the Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS)

Can you explain what the SHINE Wellness Ambassadors program is?

The Wellness Ambassadors (WA) program is an initiative within SHINE that will be piloted in 2020. It involves trained pre-clerkship medical students who will act as peer navigators for campus wellness resources. 

WAs have knowledge of resources related to equity, diversity and inclusion, sexual violence prevention and support, campus community safety, accessibility, multi-faith, crisis identification and referral, as well as safeTALK (suicide alertness training). WAs hope to support medical students in navigating diverse wellness resources (e.g. physical and mental health, financial, spiritual, environmental).

It’s important to note that although WAs are extensively trained, they are not counsellors. WAs have knowledge of many campus and community wellness resources and are able to provide informal peer support, with their main focus in resource navigation. 

What types of supports can students access through this program?

Students will be able to access a WA of their preferred year (first or second) and academy by submitting a wellness-related question and/or requesting an in-person check-in. Accessing a WA can be done through the following form

Can you explain the roles of the ambassadors?

WAs have four main roles: 

  • Promoting wellness resources and wellness-related events on campus through in-person conversations and online campaigns
  • Attending wellness-related events on campus to support students as resource navigators
  • Answering anonymous student wellness questions online
  • Completing in-person check ins to address inquiries about wellness (i.e. tips strategies, resources. 

Together, these roles address the need for student-led wellness resource navigation. This year’s WAs include Ruth Chau, Joseph Chon, Jacob Ferguson, Caitlin Lazurko, Alex Liu, Xinran Liu, Caroline Park, Christie Tan and Lilly Yu

When will this program officially begin?

January 2020!

What is the goal of this program? Do you have any short-term/long-term milestones you hope to reach with it?

The goal of the program is to increase pre-clerkship medical students’ knowledge and comfort levels with using wellness resources on campus through peer-led promotion and resource referral. We hope that the WAs can create a student-led community of support within the pre-clerkship classes. 

An ongoing goal that we have is to evaluate and improve the WA program. We will begin our initial evaluation this year with the support of Dr. David Rojas. A long-term goal of the program is to expand the program to include clerkship students, who can direct peers to clerkship-specific wellness resources..

How did this working group come together to create this program?

The Wellness Ambassadors Program was developed during the 2018-2019 school year by OHPSA and the SHINE executive team. Natalie was recruited as the SHINE WA Program Director in 2018-2019, and has been the driving force behind the development, coordination, and launch of the program. Other members of the working group include Anna, Shayna Kulman-Lipsey (OHPSA), and Allison Chen (2018-2019 SHINE General Coordinator). Over the past year, the group has worked to create a program that fits within the existing wellness supports offered by OHPSA and U of T.

Why did you decide to create this program? What were some of the main motivations?

In 2017-2018, Samantha Yang (2017-2018 Resilience Curriculum Student Coordinator) ran focus groups to better understand the factors that affect student wellness in the MD Program. The focus groups revealed that students sought the development of a more resilient community, suggesting that MD students wanted to be taught how to support their colleagues and to practice supporting each other through a mentorship program. Testimonies from students have revealed a similar desire for more peer presence in bridging the gap between the student body and formal wellness resources. With these suggestions in mind, SHINE has worked with OHPSA to best address these issues in the new WA Program.

How would someone interested in getting involved contact you?

WAs have been recruited for the 2019-2020 school year. Students interested in becoming a WA may apply in Fall 2020. For more information on the application process or WA outreach, please refer to SHINE’s website. Students can also follow us on Instagram and Facebook for updates about the program. If you have any questions about the WA program, please email us at