Say Om: Medical Students Learn Meditation To Prevent Burnout

It’s tough being a doctor. After undergoing years of study involving countless hours of cracking the books, cramming for exams, and trying to meet increasingly difficult schedules, medical students often emerge ill-equipped to handle mounting stress, prevent burnout or recognize the impact this has on self- and patient care.

Physician burnout is a serious problem in this country. One study found that nearly half of doctors display at least one sign of burnout. Various studies estimate that 20 to 60 percent of physicians experience burnout at sometime during their careers. Another study concluded that burnout is an important problem for actively practicing surgeons.

Medical Students Learn Meditation To Prevent Burnout

Clearly, physicians need ways to effectively combat stress and avoid burnout. Numerous researchers have studied the problem and suggested solutions. A Boston University School of Medicine study showed that a mind-body class elective for medical students helps increase their self-compassion and ability to manage thoughts and tasks more effectively, but may also help them better manage stress and to use mind-body skills with their patients.

With a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for the past three years, all third-year medical students at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have been provided guided relaxation and mindfulness meditation training, Applied Relaxation and Applied Mindfulness (ARAM). The training was described in a paper published in the fall issue of the Annals of Behavioral Science and Medical Education.

Lead author William McCann, Psy.D., associate professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest Baptist, said that “Research has repeatedly shown that mindfulness meditation and relaxation techniques can help moderate the influence of stress.” And every stress-management program has either relaxation or mindfulness included in order to reduce the “mental and physical wear and tear caused by stress.”

What’s in the Wake Forest Baptist training? It’s threefold:

  • To familiarize doctors with techniques recommended in many medical treatment plans for patients
  • To reduce stress and prevent professional burnout
  • To enhance performance by improving working memory, empathy, and by moderating performance anxiety.

According to researchers, 90 percent of the medical students at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found the three-session class integrated into their third year clerkship beneficial.

Wake Forest Baptist is one of only a few medical schools in the U.S. to include mindfulness or relaxation training in its curriculum.

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