My office is open. I love the ambience of it; I hope my patients do too.
I've been thinking a lot about mindfulness lately as I work on materials for patients. Meditation is something I wish I had discovered earlier in life. I think it should be taught in medical school to all aspiring doctors. Not only would it help medical students with the day to day stress, but it would help them to learn empathy for their patients by learning empathy for themselves.
I went to medical school in the eighties. Nobody talked about complementary and alternative approaches to healthcare or mind-body medicine. It wasn’t that we students thought it was weird; it wasn’t even on our collective radar screen. I know it was out there even then. Andrew Weil was busy in his movement toward integrative medicine, and Jon Kabat-Zinn was pioneering his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts. I had only fleeting awareness of these activities peripheral to the traditional medicine taught in medical school. I attended medical school in Kansas, which was not exactly a hotbed of creativity in the alternative medicine world.
Medical school was just as grueling in Kansas as it was anywhere else. Medical education then, as now, was fraught with stress and sleeplessness. Little exercise and poor diet were ways of life. Many of us accumulated debt exceeding six figures, and this has only worsened through the years. One of the cardinal lessons when entering medical school is that you may think you are the cream of the crop on acceptance, but once you get there you are one of many bright folks. Needless to say it is hard on the ego. When we add together all of these factors we have a major problem with how to cope with all of these difficulties. Medical school is not particularly known for teaching students how to deal with personal issues. The end result is that we graduate doctors who are on their way to burnout, cynicism and depleted empathy. Unfortunately this is before residency takes its enormous toll.
The question then is how do we teach medical students (and doctors) to deal with all this stress? How do we do it in an efficient and cost-effective manner? In one word--meditation. Obviously meditation has been around for thousands of years. All great religious traditions practice meditation in some form although it is most often associated with Buddhism. I am not advocating that students partake in a religious exercise. The practice of meditation is largely the practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is what we need from our doctors. Mindfulness is what we need in society at large. Mindfulness allows us pause and assess as well as to remain engaged. It allows us to maintain compassion and equanimity, joy and love for our patients.
Dr. Heather's musings about medicine, mindfulness and life.
Heather Krantz, M.D.
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 6913 Office Address: 1012 SW Emkay Drive
Bend, OR 97708 Bend, OR 97702
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