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Mindfulness Program Decreases Burnout in Healthcare Workers, Study Finds

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   January 05, 2021

The mindfulness program at an Ohio-based medical center has been expanded to include short videos for healthcare workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

A mindfulness program for healthcare workers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has decreased burnout and significantly increased resilience and work engagement, a recent research article found.

Burnout is one of the top challenges facing clinicians and other healthcare workers nationwide. In a report published in September 2020 by The Physicians Foundation, 30% of more than 2,300 physicians surveyed cited feelings of hopelessness or having no purpose due to changes in their practices related to the coronavirus pandemic. Research published in September 2018 indicates that nearly half of physicians across the country were experiencing burnout symptoms.

The recent research article, which was published by Global Advances in Health and Medicine, highlights the impact of the Mindfulness in Motion (MIM) program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. "Mindfulness is described as a nonjudgmental, present-moment awareness with non-reactivity to introspective perceptions," the study's co-authors wrote.

The study includes three key data points.

  • As measured by the Maslach Burnout Inventory, there was a 27% reduction in MIM participants meeting burnout criteria.
     
  • As measured by the 10-item Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale, which rates resiliency on a scale from 0 to 40, there was a significant increase in resilience. After participating in MIM, mean resilience scores rose from about 29.2 to about 31.6.
     
  • As measured by the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale, which rates work engagement on a scale from 0 to 6, there was a significant increase in work engagement. After participating in MIM, mean work engagement scores rose from about 3.9 to 4.3.

"Not only does mindfulness programming improve burnout, perceived stress, resilience, and work engagement, but it is also associated with a host of positive physical health outcomes, quality of life variables, and sustained mental health benefits," the co-authors of the study wrote.

How Mindfulness in Motion works

MIM was launched in 2008, starting with the nursing staff in the medical center's surgical intensive care unit. The program has since been expanded to all staff members at the facility, the lead author of the recent research article told HealthLeaders.

"We have environmental workers, we have respiratory therapists, we have nurses, and we have physicians and many other job titles. So, we have the whole healthcare teams understanding the stresses of other staff members," said Maryanna Klatt, PhD, a professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at The Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus.

MIM is an eight-week program, with participants meeting for a one-hour session each week. The sessions have five primary elements:

1. Reflective writing in response to a weekly prompt

2. Video on the science of mind/body interventions

3. Voluntary sharing of reflective responses

4. Experiential video on yoga/mindfulness practice

5. Closing meditation based on a weekly theme

An example of a weekly prompt to spur reflective writing is asking MIM participants about an experience they had in the prior week with a co-worker or a patient where they felt totally present, Klatt said. "They felt they were totally there, and the experience was different than day-to-day interactions."

This weekly prompt can have a profound impact, she said. "People get totally blown away. They say, 'I did not recognize the difference. It reminds me of why I went into healthcare.' But until they are prompted to remember this kind of experience, that experience just happens, and they do not note it. Without the prompt, they do not get the boost from the experience."

Klatt said a good example of a weekly theme for the closing meditation of a MIM session is presented in Week 1 of the program.

"We ask participants to watch their habits without judging them. Participants are asked to watch their habits of how they communicate with others, habits of thought, or physical habits. The first step of mindfulness is noticing. So, the Week 1 theme for the closing meditation is to begin the meditation with seeing yourself and paying attention to how you operate in the world. In the reflection at the beginning of Week 2, people share what they realized from the Week 1 meditation on their habits," she said.

Avoiding passing judgment on habits or other MIM exercises is crucial, Klatt said. "An important aspect of mindfulness is not to judge yourself. In this case, you begin by noticing a habit. Then you can choose to either keep the habit or change it."

A pivotal part of the MIM program that makes it well-suited to the hospital setting is making the weekly sessions part of the workday, she said. "By scheduling the Mindfulness in Motion sessions during the workday, it shows healthcare workers that their hospital cares about them—it shows the hospital cares about how healthcare workers are functioning. Mindfulness in Motion is not an extra thing that healthcare workers must do—it is incorporated in the workday."

Adapting Mindfulness in Motion to the coronavirus pandemic

During the coronavirus pandemic, Klatt has expanded MIM offerings beyond the eight-week program.

"To serve the whole medical center during the pandemic, I had to shift to a more condensed format. I started with 5- to 6-minute video practices. We are up to more than 19,500 views of those videos. I was shocked at how many people used the short videos. Now, we are in a patient surge situation with COVID-19 in Ohio, and I was asked to make some 2-minute videos. These videos are designed for the healthcare providers in the medical center who are overwhelmed with work to help them ground themselves and reboot when they feel they cannot go on because they are so exhausted," she said.

Klatt also has created 30-minute PowerPoint videos to explain what mindfulness is to people and how they can apply mindfulness during the pandemic. Those videos have about 4,000 views, she said.

Related: National Physician Burnout Expert Shares Insights: 'We Can Certainly Do Better'

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Mindfulness in Motion is an eight-week program, with participants meeting for a one-hour session each week.

As measured by the Maslach Burnout Inventory, there was a 27% reduction in Mindfulness in Motion participants meeting burnout criteria, a recent study found.

To generate more value from the program during the coronavirus pandemic, Mindfulness in Motion has been expanded to include standalone videos as short as 2 minutes.


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