Be mindful about mindfulness
Mindfulness can be practiced upon waking up, before an exam, while commuting to school and work, when eating, and before bed.
The pharmacy profession prides itself on having an evidence-based approach to practice in order to improve medication adherence. There is an emerging interest in the profession about how to include wellness activities for patients, pharmacists, and student pharmacists. When recommending any care—including wellness care—it is important to understand what works best for the individual, whether that be different approaches to exercise, diet, sleep hygiene, or meditation.
Mindfulness-oriented meditation (MOM) has garnered recent attention from the medical community as an option to reduce stress and burnout while improving overall well-being. At the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy, we wanted to dive deeper into MOM by engaging in our own practice and reviewing the literature on how mindfulness meditation has been used in health professionals’ education. Our goal was to see what it was like to meditate on a regular basis and examine how the studies could be applied to pharmacy.
Part of our self-care routine
Some common MOM techniques include focused breathing, body scans, imagery, and others. There are numerous MOM phone apps available that contain pre-recorded meditations to help keep the practice consistent and convenient. A basic example of a MOM is to focus purposefully on one’s breath and when thoughts arise, to acknowledge them and refocus on the breath.
Our small group integrated MOM into our own self-care regimens. We discovered how mindfulness was best integrated into our own lives, we checked-in together with our faculty advisor every week to see how we were doing and completed a group mindfulness meditation of around 5 to 15 minutes. By holding each other accountable and meditating together weekly as a group, it helped us to be more consistent with our practice. We each had different times that worked for our meditation based on our individual interests and desired outcomes. We found mindfulness can be practiced upon waking up, before an exam, while commuting to school and work, when eating, and before bed.
A study published in the April 2016 issue of Teaching and Learning in Medicine detailed how medical student leaders led weekly mindfulness sessions that resulted in improvements in mental health and peer support. While the study was small, the authors were encouraged that peer-supported mindfulness practice trended toward a positive impact on wellness, study-related behaviors, and academic performance. We speculate that student pharmacists, given the proper tools and training in MOM, could also learn, practice, and support one another using mindfulness techniques to make a similar impact.
An important option for pharmacists
While the life of a student pharmacist can become easily crowded with studying for tests, preparing for practice labs, and attending countless student organizational events, we have successfully incorporated small breaks of mindfulness practice into our daily lives. Through our weekly check-ins, daily mindfulness app-based practice, and reading articles on how it has been successful through other health professional programs, we experienced firsthand the value of mindfulness practice on reducing stress, living in the moment, and regaining focus during the day.
As for the pharmacy profession, we are hopeful that as we continue to discuss the struggles of burnout that mindfulness will also be brought to the table as a solution. As our profession continues to promote well-being, we believe that MOM is an important option that student pharmacists and pharmacists should be aware of, both for recommending to patients and for their own self-care. We gave mindfulness a chance, and we hope others will as well.
Meredith Lumberg, Aaron McDonough, and Abbey Schwery are third-year PharmD candidates at the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy.