Mindfulness in Medicine
Published on Oct 31, 2019. Updated on Feb 7, 2020.
Keerat, a third-year medical student, discusses how she practices meditation to help develop mindfulness and strengthen her brain as she journeys through medical school.
Medical school can be overwhelming. With 8:00 AM lectures after 2:00 AM study nights, cadaver dissections with the omnipresent taste of formaldehyde, changing from white coat to scrubs to physical exam attire back to scrubs all in the same day, committing intricate biochemical pathways to memory, and coming home to an empty fridge. It’s hard to remember to breathe amidst it all. That’s where mindfulness and meditation come in to play!
The art of letting go
Have you ever been so overwhelmed with the number of things you have to do in a day that it hinders you from doing any of them at all? Meditation focuses on being present in the moment, without worrying about the past or the future. It provides the clarity of mind that allows you to function much better. It puts your mind at ease, enhancing your ability to plan and make decisions. By using the breath as an object of focus, meditation allows the mind to quiet its constant brain chatter. It does not give you the ability to have control over your thoughts, but rather of being able to let things go. Meditation teaches you to not hold on to a stressful situation or outcome, but rather to allow the emotion to “run its course” without weighing you down.
The benefits of an everyday practice
Meditating is like exercise for the brain; it is a practice. It cannot be done once or checked off of a to-do list (wouldn’t that make working out so easy?!) The true benefits of meditation come from setting aside a few minutes every day to give the mind a break from thinking—kind of like powering off a computer. The more time you spend alone with your thoughts, the easier it becomes to accept and acknowledge them. Growing this practice builds mental strength and allows you to become more adept at dealing with emotionally charged situations.
Improving focus & memory
Studies have shown that meditation increases the size of your prefrontal cortex. It also shrinks the amygdala, the part of your brain that stores fear. By bringing awareness to the self, meditation improves the mind’s reaction to stressful situations. It builds mental stamina and resilience through focused attention; attention inward (focusing on the breath) or attention outward (focusing on certain sounds/sights/smells). There are multiple opportunities throughout the day to connect with the breath and remind yourself of that connectedness to the self.
How often do you check your phone? How many times a week do you eat out? Spend money? Exercise? Keeping track of good or bad habits can help you become more mindful of how you spend your time, money, and energy. Habit tracking is the concept of creating a list of habits that you want to promote or discourage and keeping track of how many times you do them. Then checking back on them every week or month to see which bad habits to let go of or which good habits to work on.
“What if I’m not good enough? What if I lose sight of my goals? What if I try my best and still fail?”
If thoughts like these have ever entered your mind, you might be suffering from Imposter Syndrome. What we think and say to ourselves is ultimately what we become; the conversations we have with ourselves provide the outlook for our lives. Although this self-fulfilling prophecy can be dreary, its results can be augmented by implementing a positive mindset. Creating a vision statement, a list of affirmations (“I am _____” statements) and reading it aloud everyday can refuel the passion that is often dwindled by Imposter Syndrome.
In essence, each day is an opportunity to practice mindfulness through our thoughts, our actions, and our words. All it takes is an intention.
Keerat Singh is a 3rd year medical student at Touro University California College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is originally from Bakersfield, CA and is thinking of specializing in Family Medicine. In her free time, she enjoys practicing yoga, running, writing and cooking.
Osmosis is here to help you have a more positive experience in medical school. For lifestyle and study tips for current and future clinicians, check out our Clinician’s Corner and Learning Science videos. We also have board-style practice questions, flashcards, High-Yield Notes, and a Study Schedule, all built to help you learn efficiently so you can excel and spend more time doing the things you love.