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November 13, 2018

Learning Mindfulness Helps Medical Students — and Their Future Patients

By In the Loop

Medical students from Mayo Clinic in Arizona attended a four-day course outside of their usual curriculum that was created to help them cope with the challenges of being a student and a care provider.


Of all the things Olivia Thomas expected to study in medical school, walking was not on the list. Yet one recent Tuesday afternoon, Thomas, a second year medical student at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Arizona, found herself in a classroom learning how to put one foot in front of the other — mindfully.

"Think about all the muscles that go into taking each step," instructor Angie Haskovec directed, according to ASU Now. "Notice all the sensations in your feet. The temperature, the texture of the carpet." The lesson, the publication reports, was part of a four-day course developed especially for Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine students by staff at the Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience at Arizona State University. The goal was to help students learn how a mindfulness practice can help them cope with the challenges they may face in medical school and after graduation, when caring for patients.

"The clinical environment is busy, noisy, full of constant interruptions and distractions," Teri Pipe, Ph.D., chief well-being officer at Arizona State University and founding director of the Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience, tells us. "There is time-sensitivity, and the stakes are extremely high." Those conditions can take a toll on providers, and can sometimes lead to burnout or compassion fatigue. Mindfulness can provide an antidote to both.

"Mindfulness is a skillset that builds focus and attention. Attentive presence can help reduce errors, increase the ability to discern patterns and early warning signs, and support a trusting rapport between patient and physician, which often leads to more accurate diagnosis and treatment," Dr. Pipe says. "Mindfulness practice also has the 'side effect' of reducing some of the stress associated with working in a high pressure environment."

For Thomas, the class was just what the doctor ordered. "As we continue to progress through medical school, stress seems to be exponentially piling up," she tells us. She signed up for the course, she says, "to learn how to handle stress in a healthy and effective way." Thomas says she was "an admitted skeptic of mindfulness" before taking the course, and was "surprised at how down-to-earth many of the techniques and tools were."

"This course opened my eyes to how often I fail to live in the moment and led me to reflect on how my attempts to increase productivity are, ironically, often counter-productive. It was a good reminder to slow down and be content in my daily life."

Dr. Pipe believes Thomas won't be the only one to benefit from that lesson. "I think it is a strong statement that Mayo Clinic is investing in the health and well-being of their students for the long term by teaching them practices that will support them as multi-dimensional human beings as well as physicians," she says. "This investment will also make it very likely that patients will benefit from the mindful and compassionate physicians they are becoming."

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Tags: Arizona State University, Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, Mayo Clinic in Arizona, Medical Education Stories, Mindfulness

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