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The Value of Mindfulness for Healthcare Professionals

May 20, 2020 07:00AM ● By MED Magazine

Note: See the end of this article for links to the upcoming FREE mindfulness workshops for healthcare professionals. 

By Carole South-Winter

Changes to health delivery and administration in recent decades have intensified levels of stress, burnout, and morale among healthcare professionals.  The demands these professionals face include heavy caseloads, limited control over the work environment, long hours, and even concern over adequate PPE and moral issues. 

This is directly linked to increased stress and symptoms of burnout. Miller and McGowen (2000) point to clinical training “culture” to explain that the goal-oriented approach leads to neglecting alternative sources of gratification or self-esteem; thus, after training, physicians "may not have a way to find meaningful balance between work and other life activities". Ratanawongsa et al (2007) show medical residents tend to prioritize professional accomplishment above familial, social, spiritual, mental, and financial needs.

Research supports that mindfulness training can have significant positive impacts on job satisfaction, relationships with patients, co-workers and administration; as well as increased focus and creativity. 

The modern concept of mindfulness dates back to the late 1800s, with the adaptation of a Buddhist concept, Sati, one of the factors considered to be on the pathway to enlightenment. About 100 years later, the Buddhist construct was secularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a molecular biologist, defining mindfulness as “the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” 

In the psychological literature, mindfulness is defined in many ways, with various foci including cognition, awareness (metacognition), and emotion. Huss and Baer (2000) identify defining features of mindfulness as ‘‘participants learn to observe these phenomena without evaluating their truth, importance, or value and without trying to escape, avoid, or change them’’ (p. 17).  American Medical Association ‘‘Mindful practice’’ has defined mindfulness as a logical extension of the concept of reflective practice, consistent with being present in everyday experience and open to all thoughts, actions, and sensations'' (2017).   

These understandings about mindfulness have led to interventions focused on paying attention to purpose, being in the present moment, and being nonjudgmental. Interventions include sitting meditation, breathing exercises, guided imagery, relaxation methods, yoga, and desensitization-relaxation. Research confirms millennia-old reports of mindfulness as a powerful promoter of personal and interpersonal health. 

First, mindfulness training can promote long-standing increases in positive affect and reductions in anxiety, emotional reactivity, and stress. Second, it is reported to increase empathy and compassion, and to promote a sense of connectedness with others. Third, it is viewed as a predictor of health-determining lifestyle choices, including diet, exercise, and substance use. Fourth, the act of meditation itself is associated with increased parasympathetic tone and related decreases in heart rate, blood pressure, blood cortisol, breathing rate, skin conductance, and muscle tension. 

Finally, a number of mindfulness training studies in patient populations report enhanced immune function as measured by cytokine expression, leukocyte quantities, and antibody titers in response to vaccination. 

Carole South-Winter, ND, EdD, CNMT, RT, FAEIRS is an Associate Professor and Health Services Administration Program Director in the Beacom School of Business at the University of South Dakota. In addition to holding a degree in naturopathic medicine since 1999, she served over a decade as Program Director of the largest nuclear medicine technology program in the United States, Director of Education for the AHRA, Executive Director for Reclaiming Youth International, Annual Meeting planner for AEIRS for 10 years, and Director of a private radiology oncology physician practice. Dr. South-Winter is a prolific researcher producing over 2 dozen peer reviewed publications in the past 6 years; she continues to lecture and publish at local, state, national, and international levels. 

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A gift for those who give. Treat yourself, or anyone you wish to thank, with 30 minutes of refueling designed for healthcare professionals. This combines the science behind mindfulness sprinkled with some sass. Free live virtual sessions include:

Saturday, June 13, 2020 at 9:00-9:30 am Mindfulness 1: Breathe for Release

 https://usd.zoom.us/j/97631748165

Saturday, June 20, 2020 at 9 :00-9:30 am Mindfulness 2: Complete Breath Nurturing

https://usd.zoom.us/j/92302440883

Saturday, June 27, 2020 at 9:00-9:30 am Mindfulness 3: Knowing

https://usd.zoom.us/j/91855201845

Zoom sessions will lock at 9:05, no special equipment or props needed. Join one or all free sessions for you!  Recorded sessions will be available.