For time-crunched medical students, taking a two-hour introductory class on mindfulness may be just as beneficial for reducing stress and depression as taking an eight-week meditation course, a Rutgers study finds.
Conducted by researchers at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, the research said many medical students would like to use meditation to avoid burnout and provide better medical care, but are daunted by the prospect of making time for a daily meditation routine.
A shorter, sustainable way to achieve meditation’s benefits may give medical students the tools they need to mitigate stress when they move onto their careers — helping them to avoid the physician burnout problem that permeates so much of the healthcare industry at this time.
Mindfulness is defined as maintaining nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, and continuously returning to that awareness when pulled away by distraction. Mindfulness practices are believed to have physiological and psychological benefits resulting in reducing the mind’s negative focus on feelings of distress and increasing the body’s ability to relax.
Medical students are at disproportionately high risk for depression and anxiety, and mindfulness can help them develop coping mechanisms to reduce these feelings. But they often drop out of meditation courses because of a perceived lack of time and other support.
The Rutgers practitioners found that there has been a lack of research into identifying meditation methods that may be most accessible to busy medical students and physicians. For their study, they assigned random groups of medical students to a two-hour introductory course or a full eight-week course on mediation.
Those who took the eight-week course became more familiar with mindfulness techniques and felt more comfortable recommending mindfulness to patients.
Both groups described benefits in reducing their feelings of stress and depression — and many students viewed mindfulness as a safe alternative to treating those feelings with medication. Many students also described mindfulness as providing a deeper sense of happiness and fulfillment.
The findings suggest that the full eight-week course is helpful in promoting greater awareness of how to practice mindfulness in everyday life and that the brief introductory course is an effective and efficient way to help students begin practicing mindfulness and experiencing its benefits. The authors said the study can help guide medical schools to introduce mindfulness courses or fine-tune them in ways that will benefit students.
Burnout has been a growing problem for physicians for years now, driven in part by factors such implementation and use of electronic health records and a shortage of skilled professionals relative to the number of patients. But in February some good news finally came: The epidemic levels of physicians reporting burnout dropped modestly in 2017.
Stanford University School of Medicine research found burnout decreased and satisfaction with work-life integration improved between 2014 and 2017. Still, levels of burnout remain markedly higher than in other fields. About 44 percent of physicians reported at least one symptom of burnout, and only about 43 percent reported satisfaction with their work-life integration, which was less than in 2011.
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