Why Doctors and Nurses Should Meditate

According to recent research, mindfulness could cut down on the spread of hospital-acquired infections.

“Each year, 100,000 people die from infections they picked up in the hospital. These are completely preventable diseases, caused by human error. But they result in as many annual deaths as AIDS, breast cancer and car accidents combined. They cost our health-care system $33 billion annually,” Melinda Ring writes in the Washington Post this month. Ring is medical director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

And how can mindfulness help? Ring’s research group has been studying how the positive impacts of mindfulness meditation could improve doctor and nurse decision-making and quality of care—two key elements in improving patient safety.

Ring writes:

So far, the results are good. Physicians participating in mindfulness training report enhanced personal well-being, decreased burn-out, and improved attitude toward patient-centered care. This is important, because health-care provider burnout has been significantly associated with an increase in medical errors. In particular, errors spike when doctors and nurses respond to chronic excessive stress with depersonalization of their patients—a detached, cynical attitude—and emotional exhaustion. For example, the likelihood of a surgeon self-reporting a major medical error increased by 11 percent per one point increase on a depersonalization scale (from 0 – 33).

Read the article to learn more about Ring’s research and other organizations bringing mindfulness to their staff.

What if medical students could learn mindfulness meditation as part of their training?

This year, medical students at McGill University in Montreal will take part in a mandatory Mindful Medical Practice program, an area of study the university previously offered only as an elective.

Stephen Liben, currently an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine of McGill University and Member of McGill Programs in Whole Person Care, will become the director of the new mindful program. Liben states “McGill recognized that student stress and distress have become a major issue and they were open to approaches that might help students cope better. McGill has been very supportive and is, as far as I know, the only medical school to have a mindful practice course as a core (non-elective) course in the undergraduate medical curriculum.”

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