Mindfulness training: short and sweet does the trick

A recent study out of the United-States is of interest to medical students who are interested in mindfulness, but feel that it requires too much time commitment to learn about the practice. The study shows how a short introduction to mindfulness might be just as good as a longer introduction course.    

This randomized control trial took place at a medical school in New Jersey, USA. The researchers randomized medical students into 2 groups: an introductory mindfulness class alone or the introductory class accompanied by a full 8-week mindfulness course. The students in the short introductory class received a 2-hour course led by a trained teacher who guided them through a didactic component (information on mindfulness in medicine) followed by a practical component (meditation and yoga). The students in the other group received the same introductory class, but it was followed by 7 weekly 1.5-hour sessions of practiced meditation. A survey of 6 questionnaires was administered after the introductory course and after the 8-week period for both groups. The results of this study show no significant difference in wellness outcomes between the 2 groups. However, students who took the full 8-week course were more comfortable in applying mindfulness methods to themselves and recommending them to others. 

This study shows that a short training in mindfulness may be all that is necessary for students to begin their own independent mindfulness practice. The authors of the study postulate that while expertise in mindfulness takes greater time and effort, the basics can be attained through a short training session. This is especially interesting for medical students, as our time can be limited by our academic activities. If a shorter mindfulness training session can be just as effective in boosting student wellness, offering short training sessions could increase the accessibility of mindfulness classes. Longer training sessions could then be offered to those who want to incorporate mindfulness-based activities or teaching into their clinical practice as physicians.    

This study can provide excellent motivation for students to spend a short time just learning the basics of mindfulness, or even for faculties to include a mindfulness course in their curriculum. Of course, this study was limited by the small sample size, and would benefit from being repeated in the future as the importance of mindfulness for medical students is increasingly recognized. 

Reference: Shapiro, P., Lebeau, R. & Tobia, A. Mindfulness Meditation for Medical Students: a Student-Led Initiative to Expose Medical Students to Mindfulness Practices.Med.Sci.Educ. 29, 439–451 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40670-019-00708-2

This article was written by Devangi Patel, a medical student at McGill University and member of the Mindful Medical Learner Team.

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