A male student with an anxious expression on campus.

Voices of Resilience: A new conversation about mental health at RCSI

  • Education

The student welfare team at RCSI works every day to encourage and help our students to maintain optimum physical and psychological health during their time at RCSI. Emma Daly, Student Welfare Officer, describes a novel campaign that kick-started a new and vulnerable conversation about mental health at RCSI.

Studying to become a healthcare professional is demanding, intense and rewarding. The skills students learn during this time helps to prepare them for their careers. As they move through their careers in healthcare, resilience and personal understanding will be the cornerstone of their wellbeing, determining how well they will personally and professionally thrive for the rest of their lives.  

Today’s generation of health sciences students are more used to talking about mental health than ever before, but that does not make them immune to challenges including anxiety, self-doubt, stress and depression. We know from the conversations we have with our students that they are concerned about protecting their mental health. They are curious about the positive behaviours they can adopt and how they can develop their own personal toolkit to support their wellbeing as they prepare for their long and challenging careers in healthcare.  

As a team, we are always looking for new ways to support good psychological health among our students, and ways of reaching students beyond those who proactively reach out for support. The Voices of Resilience campaign emerged from those efforts, and we think it is a good example of how the collective wisdom and experience of more experienced staff can be brought together to inspire our students, fostering a greater sense of togetherness, and taking a sledgehammer to stigma. 

We are proud to have had the support of several senior faculty and staff members and that of our colleagues behind RCSI Inspire, who are concerned with staff well-being.  

The campaign saw contributors from around RCSI open up in a vulnerable and self-reflective way about the tools they have developed to manage their well-being, overcome adversity, manage setbacks and build resilience. 

The strength in sharing 

In one video, our Vice Chancellor Professor Cathal Kelly shares his advice on managing transitions, emphasising the importance of personal wellness in the workplace, and reminding us that each of us will have our own challenges to overcome – “we are not the only one”.  

Prof. Kelly reminds us to first take diligent care of our own health outcomes and sings praise to the six pillars of lifestyle medicine: sleep, nutrition, exercise, stress management, addictive substance avoidance and good social connections. 

Noel O’Callaghan, our Head of Student Development and Wellbeing, speaks of his journey to break free from the constraints of the societal scripts and norms that often hinder our mental health and overall wellbeing. He talks about the power of rewriting the narratives that hold us back so we can foster a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life.

Kieran Ryan, Managing Director of RCSI’s Department of Surgical Affairs, speaks about “not being in control”. He warns against always having a plan and comparing ourselves to others. He reminds us of the importance of acceptance and suggests that instead of worrying about what we cannot control, we shift our energy to what we can create. 

Dr Claire Hevican, a Senior Clinical Lecturer in our Department of Surgery, reminds us that it is not selfish to put ourselves first – it is necessary. 

How to eat an elephant

Niamh Mullen, Career Development Advisor, shares her experience of the vulnerability of ‘imposter syndrome’ and how she overcame it with the help of a mentor, her family support network, and by staying active. 

David Harris, Sports Centre Manager, shares how challenging it was to return to education while balancing being a parent. By setting daily targets, Dave managed to reach his goal and in turn answer his own question. There is only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.

We also hear from former RCSI staff member Yeukai Chikwamba. Yeukai was a valued member of the SARA team who recently moved on to begin her own journey of studying medicine in September 2023. Yeukai speaks on the value of perseverance – discussing unsuccessful examination attempts and the importance of not giving up. She shares this message of success for our students, many of whom she has supported directly when they have experienced setbacks on their academic journey.

A new foundation of resilience and community

The contributions for this series have allowed staff and students to connect and relate to each other in a unified way. In the days and months after the project launched, we saw staff members gain the courage to initiate their own conversations and to continue sharing in a way that simultaneously tears down barriers and creates a new foundation of resilience and community.   

The project has given us a meaningful opportunity to meet students where they are. We have been able to signpost the videos to them in orientation settings as a group as well as within our individual meetings with students. 

What we have learned is that the fundamental message that they aren't alone in what may seem like an impossible task makes a real difference in a student's daily life and helps them to reach their full potential. They know they cannot expect to strive through their degree without any personal challenges, and they can acknowledge that their setbacks can make them stronger. 

Moving forward, we hope to continue our collaborative efforts in promoting wellbeing in RCSI and to extend this creativity as a healthy campus “one bite at a time”.

Emma DalyEmma Daly is Student Welfare Officer at the Centre for Mastery: Personal, Professional & Academic Success (CoMPPAS), RCSI.


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