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MSIH Helps Students Cope with the Stresses of a Pandemic

“Being an American myself, and the wife of an American MSIH graduate really help me to understand what students are going through – so I’m in a unique position to help.”

These are the words of Laura Stiebel, a clinical social worker who provides help to students in all years at MSIH.

“Regular Israeli students would need to register at the university’s social services center, then wait for an appointment,” explains Laura. “But students at MSIH know that I’m available any time and can offer immediate assistance when they need it most. There’s no long wait for an appointment.”

Laura Stiebel, MSW MSIH Social Worker

Laura, who holds a Masters from Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University, New York, began working with MSIH this year.

“It was really fortuitous,” she says. “At the beginning of the year, I had plans to create monthly events related to mental health – things like wellbeing, mindfulness, and self-care. But almost immediately the pandemic happened and I found myself dealing with a whole new set of circumstances that nobody could have foreseen. It’s lucky I was there at just the right time, and I hope the students feel safer knowing that I’m available.”

Laura is married to Moshe Stiebel, an alumnus of MSIH who decided to stay in Israel after graduating in 2017. He is currently doing his residency in Family Medicine – and continues to take great interest in MSIH and its students.

“Each year has its own set of challenges,” explains Laura. “First year students feel stuck in a foreign environment and don’t know when they’re next going to see their families. Second years worry about preparing properly for the USMLE, with all the stresses a huge professional exam entails. Third years don’t know where they’ll do electives and what will happen if borders don’t open in time. It’s a very worrying time for everyone.”

Students receive regular emails from Laura with snippets of guidance and advice. Being an American and the wife of a graduate, she uniquely understands their sensitivities and pressure points. 

“Although I don’t hear from all the students, the general consensus is that they really appreciate knowing I’m around. The fact that I understand their culture and academic stresses makes them feel more confident they’ll get the right type of help from someone who understands exactly where they are.”

Where Laura feels a student needs help she can’t provide, she’ll refer him/her to an English-speaking professional in the city. “I can identify when someone needs therapy and connect them with the right people.”

Laura explains that MSIH students usually express themselves more delicately than Israelis – who are renowned for straight-forward talking and apparent aggressiveness. So if someone comes to her and she sees their behaviour is out of character for an American, she usually knows something’s up. “It’s the advantage I have over regular Israeli social workers. I can identify a behavior pattern that they might miss. Also I don’t have the preconceived notions of Americans that an Israeli therapist may have, so I can focus more on the real problem.”

Asked how an incoming first year student can prepare given the difficult circumstances surrounding a pandemic, Laura replied:

“This year everyone is starting from home, through video. As it’s often difficult to detach home from study life, I’d recommend that people be a little introspective and make a conscious effort to separate the two. Set up a space at home that’s designated for work/study. When necessary, shut off electronics so that you’re not distracted. Most important is to always plan the day, with specific hours for study and for relaxation. Space and time for your studies are important and the plan should always include three self-care items, like reading, walking, yoga – anything that helps you relax. Naturally, although the incoming first year students won’t physically be in Israel, I’m still available to them if they need me.”

“MISH is a unique school and I feel very lucky that I’m here at just the right time to help. Things will eventually get back to normal and then I can go back to my original plan of monthly mental-health events. Until then, I’m here for anyone that needs to talk.”

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