“It has been suggested that inadequate self-care and ineffective coping styles are often established during medical training; they may persist after training and be self-destructive in the long-run. Therefore, introducing students to self-regulation skills along with other self-care approaches during medical school may improve their personal health and professional satisfaction not only during residency but also beyond.” – William McCann
Medical School is challenging both intellectually and psychologically. Stress levels are high and burnout is common. It’s been estimated that 63% of medical students experience negative consequences from stress while symptoms of severe stress was present in 25% of students. The prevalence of stress is higher among females than among males. High stress levels lead to lower performance in medical school and higher levels of physical and mental health problems, especially anxiety and depression. Indeed 50% of medical students report burnout and 11% have considered suicide in the last year.
Obviously there is a need to either lower stress levels in medical education or find methods to assist medical students in dealing with the stress. One promising possibility is mindfulness training. It has been shown to reduce stress in students (See http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/10/burnout-burnout-with-mindfulness/), to help with the negative consequences of stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/destress-with-mindfulness/) and to reduce burnout in medical professionals (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/10/burnout-burnout-with-mindfulness/). So, it would seem reasonable to suspect that mindfulness would be helpful in assisting medical students cope with the stress of their training.
In today’s Research News article “The relationships among self-care, dispositional mindfulness, and psychological distress in medical students”
Slonim and colleagues demonstrate that the higher the level of mindfulness in medical students the lower their distress levels including levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. They also found that higher levels of self-care, in particular spiritual growth, were associated with lower levels of distress. Finally, they showed that high levels of mindfulness strengthened the relationship between self-care and lower distress levels. That is, the higher the mindfulness level the greater the impact of self-care on lowering distress. So, mindfulness not only directly lowers depression, anxiety, and stress in medical students but also magnifies the positive effects of self-care on these symptoms of distress.
Mindfulness may assist medical students by increasing present moment awareness. This reduces patterns of automatic, mindless, and judgmental thinking which can mitigate the impact of the situation on the individual. So, the student can attribute how they’re feeling and acting to the situation rather than to some personal failing.
Mindfulness is known to increase emotion regulation allowing the student to more accurately interpret what they’re feeling and respond to it appropriately. This also reduces the impact of strong negative emotional responses to thoughts and emotions their levels of depression and anxiety. So, mindful students experience their emotional reactions, recognize their causes, and adjust to them in an adaptive way.
Finally, mindfulness has been demonstrated to directly reduce symptoms of stress and the individual’s responses to stress. This occurs both by altering the physical and hormonal responses to stress and by reducing the negative spiral of stress, where the fact of stress induces more stress. This dramatically improves the students’ ability to cope with the stressful demands of medical education, perform at a higher level and make burnout less likely.
So, be mindful and be better equipped to deal with stressful educational experiences.
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies