Mindfulness in Medical School: Living Fuller and More Present Lives

uvmmedicine blogger Stephanie Kulaga '19
uvmmedicine blogger Stephanie Kulaga ’19

It’s a Tuesday afternoon and a smattering of students sit in a silent classroom. Their heads are bowed downward, and the only sounds heard are the white noise from a fan humming in the distance and the occasional shuffle of someone shifting in their seat. At first blush, the scene painted looks a lot like team-based learning, when students study a topic on their own, and then work together to come up with solutions to a presented problem. But on this Tuesday afternoon, the med students seated in a small circle aren’t working through a medical topic – they’re meditating.

This fall the University of Vermont College of Medicine’s Wellness Committee, in conjunction with Living Well, the outreach office for UVM’s Center for Health and Well-Being, is piloting a series of mindfulness classes at the College of Medicine open to all students, faculty and staff. The first was held during orientation, where over 30 first-year students showed up to take some time out of their frenzied first weeks and talk about the meaning of mindfulness, as well as practice several forms of mindfulness meditation. The session ended with Lindsay Foreman, a meditation instructor at Living Well who has been practicing for over 20 years, leading the group on an exquisitely slow and silent walk out in the sun.

I was among the students at these events, and though I’ve meditated for quite some time and do a halfway decent job of maintaining a regular practice, there is a warmth and supportiveness to sitting in a group that I hadn’t realized I missed so much. In the discussions following our short periods of practice, many students expressed a desire to meditate regularly, recognizing its potential to decrease stress, help them focus and, most importantly, live fuller and more present lives. However, starting any new habit is difficult – especially in medical school. Our hope is that the mindfulness series will give more students the opportunity to learn about and experience meditation so that they feel supported in starting a practice should they so desire.

Our next set of events is slated to kick off with a talk by Dr. Jim Hudziak, child psychiatrist, on the science behind mindfulness. It will be held the morning of the White Coat Ceremony for the Class of 2020 so visiting families can attend, and all others from the UVM community are welcome. In the following three weeks, we will hold three hour-long lunchtime sessions open to students, faculty and staff. Instructors from Living Well will donate their time and focus on various themes like incorporating mindfulness into daily life, using mindfulness for self-care, and even mindful eating. All classes are appropriate for complete beginners to experienced practitioners, and all will include some introduction to practice and several short periods of meditation.

I am hoping to see many of my peers at the upcoming events. It’s immeasurably important to take care of ourselves, and it’s immeasurably rewarding to share the experience of mindfulness meditation with a community of peers.

Here’s the lineup of events:

Dr. Hudziak on the Science of Mindfulness
Friday, October 7th at 9:00am, Davis Ballroom (location tentative)

Mindfulness Series

  • Monday, October 10th at 12:00pm, Larner Classroom
  • Friday, October 21st at 12:00pm, MedEd 300
  • Wednesday, October 26th at 12:00pm, Larner Classroom

In the meantime, Living Well offers a number of free meditation courses and drop-in groups. You can also find a list of community mindfulness resources. Or, if you’re just looking for something you can do on your own, check out the Insight Timer or Buddhify apps.

What are your thoughts about this topic?