Reduce Stress and Increase Self-Compassion in Medical Students with Online Mindfulness Training
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“What we found should encourage even the busiest medical students and physicians. There are shorter, sustainable ways to bring meditation into your life, and they can help you reduce stress and depression and improve your medical study and practice.” – Periel Shapiro
Stress is epidemic in the western workplace with almost two thirds of workers reporting high levels of stress at work. In high stress occupations, like healthcare, burnout is all too prevalent. Burnout is the fatigue, cynicism, emotional exhaustion, sleep disruption, and professional inefficacy that comes with work-related stress. It is estimated that over 45% of healthcare workers experience burnout. Currently, over a third of healthcare workers report that they are looking for a new job. It not only affects the healthcare providers personally, but also the patients, as it produces a loss of empathy and compassion. Burnout, in fact, it is a threat to the entire healthcare system as it contributes to the shortage of doctors and nurses.
Preventing burnout has to be a priority. Unfortunately, it is beyond the ability of the individual to change the environment to reduce stress and prevent burnout, so it is important that methods be found to reduce the individual’s responses to stress; to make the individual more resilient when high levels of stress occur. Contemplative practices have been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress. Indeed, mindfulness has been shown to be helpful in treating and preventing burnout, increasing resilience, and improving sleep. It would be best to provide techniques to combat burnout early in a medical career. Medical School is extremely stressful and many students show distress and express burnout symptoms. Medical school may be an ideal time to intervene.
In today’s Research News article “Determining the feasibility and effectiveness of brief online mindfulness training for rural medical students: a pilot study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7137339/), Moore and colleagues recruited medical students focusing on rural health care who were undergoing training in widespread rural healthcare facilities. They had them complete an 8-week online mindfulness training program. They were measured before and after training and 4 months later for amount of mindfulness practice, perceived stress, self-compassion, and compassion. In addition, they submitted a self-reflective essay on how the mindfulness training program affected them.
They found that at the end of training and at the 4-month follow-up there was a significant decrease in perceived stress and increase in self-compassion. The greater the perceived stress and the lower the self-compassion at baseline, the greater the change after training. The essays revealed that although the students found the program valuable, they had difficulty in engaging in the practice amid their busy schedules. The students also commented that the program improved their self-awareness, self-compassion. and performance, and reduced their stress levels.
The results are compatible with prior research that mindfulness training decreases perceived stress and increases self-compassion. These benefits would likely contribute to reducing burnout during their education and perhaps later in their careers. Importantly, the study demonstrated that mindfulness training can be successfully delivered to medical students over the internet. This latter point is particularly important as the students were spread out in disparate rural communities and so in-person training was impossible. This underscores that importance of implementing the training over the internet.
So, reduce stress and increase self-compassion in medical students with online mindfulness training.
“mindfulness training positively influences the way students approach and reflect on their well-being and education within the medical education context.” – Alice Malpass
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Moore, S., Barbour, R., Ngo, H., Sinclair, C., Chambers, R., Auret, K., Hassed, C., & Playford, D. (2020). Determining the feasibility and effectiveness of brief online mindfulness training for rural medical students: a pilot study. BMC medical education, 20(1), 104. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-020-02015-6
We sought to determine the feasibility and effectiveness of a mindfulness training program, delivered online to medical students at a Rural Clinical School.
An 8-week online training program was delivered to penultimate-year medical students at an Australian Rural Clinical School during 2016. Using a mixed methods approach, we measured the frequency and duration of participants’ mindfulness meditation practice, and assessed changes in their perceived stress, self-compassion and compassion levels, as well as personal and professional attitudes and behaviours.
Forty-seven participants were recruited to the study. 50% of participants were practising mindfulness meditation at least weekly by the end of the 8-week program, and 32% reported practising at least weekly 4 months following completion of the intervention. There was a statistically significant reduction in participants’ perceived stress levels and a significant increase in self-compassion at 4-month follow-up. Participants reported insights about the personal and professional impact of mindfulness meditation training as well as barriers to practice.
The results provide preliminary evidence that online training in mindfulness meditation can be associated with reduced stress and increased self-compassion in rural medical students. More rigorous research is required to establish concrete measures of feasibility of a mindfulness meditation program.