Relaxation is Required

Practicing mindfulness becomes part of the curriculum for med students


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UC San Diego medical students cram their brains with anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology. Beginning this semester, budding doctors will clear their minds for a few moments. Students are learning meditation as part of a new “mindful practice” program at the UCSD School of Medicine. It’s the first in the nation to require mindfulness training for first- and second-year med students. This isn’t an elective, but a lead doctor says it’s not “poofery” either.

“It’s not like you’re sitting there doing ‘om’ for five minutes,” says Gene “Rusty” Kallenberg, chief of the Division of Family Medicine at UCSD School of Medicine. “You’re trying to clear your mind and get stable. You’re ready to be curious, observant, and present for the next patient.”

Kallenberg says mindfulness encourages awareness of one’s perceptions, feelings, and reactions. Early research shows it helps clinicians truly listen to the patient in front of them, despite clamor in the waiting room, questions from nurses, and pagers going off. In collaboration with the UCSD Center for Integrative Medicine, med students can also choose electives in acupuncture and naturopathic clinics. Plus they’re learning about benefits of a whole-food, plant-based diet, such as lower cholesterol and blood sugar.

“You can come in and I spend 10 minutes fiddling with your diabetic medications,” says Kallenberg about the diabetes epidemic. “Or I can say ‘How are you eating?’ I mean, if you’re going to McDonald’s three times a day saying ‘Supersize me,’ it doesn’t matter what medicines I give you.”

He says diabetes and coronary heart disease would largely disappear if people ate better, exercised, and practiced mindfulness. UCSD med students are getting firsthand experience.

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