Pilot program hopes to relieve burnout among medical providers
April 8, 2018
HAYDEN — Burnout, stress and higher suicide rates are just a few of the things that many medical professionals across the country, and in every community, face every day.
"This has really made me more aware of the stress that we face and how we handle it. Whether we internalize it or whether we externalize it or whatever we do with it," Anna Lundeen, a family practitioner with Northwest Colorado Health, said during the final face-to-face meeting of a seven-week mindfulness program. "This is a chance to find more meaningful ways to manage those things, so that we can be more present when we are with our patients."
The program was led by Steamboat Springs’ Kristen Race, who is the founder of Mindful Life. Race, who has a Ph.D, created the program after being approached a few months ago by Diana Hornung, Northwest Colorado Health’s medical director.
"We have worked with schools, and we have worked with businesses, and I have worked with parents," Race said. "The medical community seemed like the next logical place to go because of its high level of burnout.
“National studies suggest that 50 percent of U.S. physicians are experiencing professional burnout,” Race explained. “Females reported higher levels of burnout, and 33 percent of registered nurses leave the profession within the first two years. The cost of burnout is particularly high in the medical field because the cost of replacing medical professionals is so great."
Hornung said her organization was already dealing with the issue and had started working on a program that she called “joy in work.”
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"I reached out to Kristen because we have been talking about joy in work as an organizational topic and what could be done as individuals," Hornung said. "There were some people in our organization that had done the workplace mindfulness with Kristen, so I was wondering if she had anything for healthcare providers. She said ‘no,’ but that she would be open to developing something. We worked with her to develop this course, and I think we are benefiting from it, and hopefully, others will benefit."'
The pilot program is designed to build resiliency to the stressors people in the medical field experience, which are unique. Each week, the students were taught breathing techniques and other tools to help them navigate overwhelming schedules, clerical burdens and pressures outside of dealing with patients. The goal was also to allow for meaningful work.
"We come at it using mindfulness stills," Race said. "Not skills where they sit on a cushion and meditate for 20 minutes, twice a day. This is more about what they can do in five minutes that will change their brain chemistry, so that they will be more present and engaged. Or, what kinds of practices can they do between patients, so that they can let go of the patient that they just saw and be present and engaged with the next patient."
Race offered strategies medical providers could use in the moment that she hopes will result in better contact with patients and co-workers and a more positive work environment.
"We teach short and simple practices focused on the neurology of stress in the brain and strengthening key areas in the brain that will help them move through their day more easily," Race said.
The program with Northwest Colorado Health held its final face-to-face meeting last week in Hayden. The group will meet again in a month to discuss how the strategies they learned are working and how valuable the program was to the students.
Based on the feedback, Race will make modifications to the program before rolling it out to other organizations this fall.