“Presence & Attention”: A Meditation Guide for Medical Students

Collin York '20
Collin York ’20

The UVM Larner College of Medicine recently launched a meditation guide for students, giving a broad look at the various ways integrating a meditation practice into daily life can help ease stress and anxiety, as well as foster health and well-being over time. Here, co-author Collin York ’20 talks about the goals for the project and the benefits to medical students.

 How did the project come about?
Originally, Lee Rosen, Ph.D., our director of student well-being, approached me to collaborate with him on an idea for a meditation resource geared specifically toward med students. I think Lee asked me because he’d heard that I had a background in writing and was newly establishing my own meditation practice. Because I was freshly learning how to meditate, and sorting through the many available resources for meditating, I was well-positioned to focus on the meditation instructions and resources sections of the guide.

Writing the guide was a thoroughly collaborative effort. We met regularly to generate ideas for the guide and gave feedback and recommendations for the respective sections we were working on. It was a fun process, and I think we both learned a lot about how to write and collaborate effectively.

Can you describe the guide?
The guide is split roughly into three sections. The first is a reflection on why a medical student might benefit from meditation. It answers the question, “Why should I care?” and explains that the particular challenges medical students face can be channeled or diffused through meditation. The second section offers simple and brief instructions on how to meditate, which are geared toward the beginning meditator and presuppose no prior experience. The first set of instructions describe so-called “concentration” meditation, and the second describe so-called “insight” meditation. The last section offers suggestions for other resources and “next steps” after readers have attempted meditating and wish to continue their practice. It covers resources including apps, in-person guided sessions, and books.

How did you become interested in meditation? And how has it been helpful for you?
In a word, Dr. Lee Rosen! Prior to starting med school, I was familiar with meditation and different people had suggested I try it; but it wasn’t until hearing Lee’s introductory talk on the benefits of meditation during orientation that I began trying it in earnest. Med school is hard in general, but especially with respect to the demands it places on our attention. In the beginning of my first year of school, I found myself looking for a tool to develop my capacity to concentrate on the task at hand (often studying) and stay in the present despite all of our activities and demands. Meditation has proved invaluable in maintaining and increasing my capacity to pay attention, which I think has allowed me to get more out of learning opportunities here at the Larner College of Medicine.

As I gained more familiarity with meditation I became aware of some of its other, “downstream” effects: that it can make you a kinder and more compassionate person. Let’s face it – med school is stressful sometimes – and this stress can tend to make you a little too absorbed in your own narrow goals and achievements. Meditation has allowed me to step back from my own personal concerns, recall the bigger goal of serving people and caring for their health, and meet people who are in need with more of my presence and attention. This has, I hope, allowed me to become a better person and a better doctor than I otherwise might be.

What are your thoughts about this topic?