The high prevalence of burnout, depression and suicidal ideation among physicians and medical students has been well-documented. Depression is higher among medical students than it is in the general population, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
With this troubling reality in mind, Miko Rose, DO, created the Joy Initiative as a psychiatry resident. It’s a 10-week class for medical students at the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM) in East Lansing, and it focuses on mindfulness training and self-care techniques borrowed from cognitive behavioral therapy.
To measure the effectiveness of the class, medical students completed three self-assessments—the Beck Anxiety Inventory, Fordyce Happiness Scale and Authentic Happiness Inventory—at the beginning, midpoint and end of the course. Students who weren’t part of the class were used as a control group.
The results were striking, noted Dr. Rose, who’s now an assistant professor at MSUCOM. Joy Initiative students registered a mean Beck Anxiety Inventory anxiety level of 6.8 at the end of the class, down from 12.8 at the beginning. Among the control group, the mean anxiety score was 9.8. In qualitative reviews, students also gave the class high marks, with some noting they felt less stressed and planned to incorporate meditation and mindfulness into their daily routine. “I am able to love myself more and am so much less critical,” wrote one student.
The Joy Initiative has blossomed into a series of monthly dinners open to all MSUCOM students, and the class is being offered as a 1-credit elective for both DO students at MSUCOM and MD students at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine.
In the future, MSUCOM hopes to export the program to its graduate medical education programs, said Kari Hortos, DO. “We’re looking to design independent modules that can be available to medical students, residents and physicians online,” explained Dr. Hortos, the interim senior associate dean of MSUCOM. “All our program directors are very interested, so we’re hoping to take what Dr. Rose has started and translate it across the state of Michigan.”
Quick ways to boost mental health
For busy physicians, residents and medical students, Dr. Rose advises that even quick self-care measures can go a long way toward nurturing mental and emotional wellbeing. Here are two exercises to try:
- Practice mindfulness meditation for two minutes by closing your eyes and counting your breaths until you reach 10. Then start over. If your thoughts wander, gently refocus on your breathing without judgement.
- Take a few minutes for a quick writing exercise that can help you pinpoint and resolve negative emotions. Start by choosing an emotion you’re feeling from this list. Then, connect the emotion you’re feeling with the need it corresponds to. Finally, think about how you could get at the root cause of your feelings by addressing the unmet need. “For example, I might feel irritated because I have a need for peace that isn’t being met,” Dr. Rose explained. “Having identified that, I can think about ways to make my day a little more peaceful by going for a walk, petting my cat or hanging out with my kid. As physicians, the more we take care of ourselves, the more we’ll be able to take care of our patients.”