UAB Hires New Counselor to Combat Graduate Distress

By on April 9, 2014
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Graduate school can be stressful and overwhelming for many graduate students. To help students stay focused and emotionally healthy UAB is making a conscious effort to provide counseling resources for its students.

As part of this effort, UAB’s office for Student Engagement recently hired Shawra Rainer as the new Case Management Specialist for Graduate Students to help graduate students cope with distress.

Rainer, who earned a Master of Social Work from Alabama A&M, has a background in counseling and will be acting as an educator to direct students to the many resources UAB currently offers including the school’s psychiatric clinics, Counseling and Wellness services, and if necessary, food and shelter assistance.

As part of her focus on graduate students, Rainer will serve as an adviser for the Graduate Student Association, allowing her to directly hear the needs and concerns of UAB’s graduate student body.

In order to better understand the needs of graduate students, I spoke to Biomedical Research student who is currently pursuing her Ph.D.

We discussed some of the challenges that graduate students are facing and she believes that stress seems to be the greatest problem for her and her peers. While the term “distress” can mean both physical and emotional pain, according to this student, anxiety, pressure, and the competitive atmosphere all lead to distress. Because of this, she has witnessed both internal and external side effects.

“I fully support UAB hiring a grad school counselor. Graduate students are in a transition period in their lives and it is a significant adjustment. Also, the expectation is that graduate students work abnormal, extended hours so that they deserve their degree. I think the major source of stress for graduate students is the overly competitive atmosphere that graduate school brings. I think that graduate students need to have the option of counseling to make the transition easier and to allow them to deal with the daily stresses of graduate school,” the student said.

She told me about her own medical problems that were brought on by stress. She suffered acid reflux and digestive problems. Which, according to Dr. Aimee Holland, are both common side effects of stress.

Dr. Holland works at UAB Student Health Services and has had extensive experience in dealing with students in similar situations.

When I spoke to Holland over e-mail, she gave an extensive list of stress-induced complications: “the inability to sleep, elevated blood pressure (headaches and dizziness), digestive problems and bowel issues (lack of appetite, increased appetite, reflux, diarrhea, and constipation), menstrual cycle changes (irregular cycles and missed periods), and psychological symptoms (anxiety, depression, breakdown in relationships, and lack of desire for intimacy),” wrote Holland.

I also spoke to Ashton Tureaud, a nurse practitioner at Student Health Services. She believes emotional distress among graduate students is a growing issue.

Since working at Student Health services, Tureaud has seen an increase in the number of students who need anti-depressants and anti-anxiety prescriptions.

Tureaud also noted that graduate students have increased pressures because many of them have families they support, unlike the majority of undergraduate students.

Holland’s experience confirm this concern–she reports that since 2008, she has seen more and more stress-induced symptoms brought on by family and financial responsibility.

When I asked Holland and Tureaud what they recommend for students who are dealing with emotional distress, both said that students should voice their concerns and seek counseling and psychiatric help, as well as find healthy outlets for stress, like exercise or meditation.

It appears that Rainer’s arrival at UAB could not have come soon enough. While it may be impossible to eliminate stress from the graduate school experience, faculty such as Rainer and the staff of Student Health Services are available and willing to help.

For  more information on stress management counseling, call Student Engagement directly at 205 or visit the Student Engagement at engagement@uab.edu.

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