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Mindful : October 2014
In Januar y 2015, medical students at McGill University in Montreal will take par t in a mandator y Mindful Medical Practice program, an area of study the university previously offered only as an elective. Stephen Liben, currently an Associate Professor in the Fac- ulty of Medicine of McGill Uni- versity 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 suppor tive 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.” Liben sees mindfulness as a way to help doctors manage the challenges that come with their work—every thing from dealing with stress to conflicts with patients and their families. “Do they deal with it functionally, do they hide from it, or do they quit As the problem of physician malaise is pervasive, universities are responding by taking steps to provide their medical students with better ways to cope. Here’s what one university is doing to help students face the many challenges they will meet in their future careers. the profession?” says Liben. “You know, there are a lot of unhappy doctors.” According to Liben, “There is good evidence that burnout is more prevalent in physicians today than ten years ago. Why should that be in a group of well-educated, well-paid, and well-respected professionals whose job is to help reduce the suffering of others?” Liben suspects that there are multiple reasons but whatever the root cause, he is concerned that “ there is little attention placed on a physician’s resiliency and capacity to adapt as ex ternal changes take place.” Liben emphasizes that “physicianship” encompasses the dual roles of the physician as healer and as professional. “If we are to take the role of physicians helping to create the conditions for healing seriously, then we need to use what we know about how to create those conditions and find ways to effectively embody and teach our students what we say we value. A mindful medical practice is one way this can be done. “There is a knowledge- base and skill-set that mindful- ness brings that dovetails with what we want to teach medical students in how to pay atten- tion and how to listen. Mindful- ness for medical students has the potential to help them focus and re-focus their at tention as well as to improve their situa- tional awareness. Enhancing situational awareness is already known to be essential in such disparate areas as preventing medical errors and in learning how to stay with emotionally difficult conversations that physicians have been shown to avoid—physicians’ typically interrupt their patients within 20 seconds of them speaking.” What does Liben want par- ticipants to take away from the course? “Our hope is that each student will find, within the variety of experiential exercises offered to them throughout the course, some that they can continue to use to help meet the many challenges they will face as physicians.” ● Part of the Solution October 2014 mindful 59