Ottawa

University of Ottawa med students now required to meditate

The University of Ottawa's gruelling medical school curriculum — which helps prepare students for an even more gruelling career — now includes mandatory meditation sessions.

Meditation class intended to relieve stress, prevent burnout

Dr. Heather MacLean helped develop the curriculum at the University of Ottawa medical school, which includes meditation. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

The University of Ottawa's gruelling medical school curriculum — which helps prepare students for an even more gruelling career — now includes mandatory meditation sessions.

It's an opportunity for first-year students to learn how to take a break from the mayhem, said Dr. Heather MacLean, who helped develop the curriculum.

"Medical students have to acquire and absorb and assimilate a huge amount of information over four years, so understandably they get quite stressed," MacLean told Hallie Cotnam on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

I don't usually participate in things like this. It's definitely a new perspective.- Will Phillips, medical student

"A little bit of stress is not bad in medical students — it can actually enhance performance — but a lot of stress is a bad thing, and can actually lead to student burnout."

Will Phillips, a first-year medical student, said the meditation class is an opportunity to "try to escape your own head," although he added it's not something he considered doing before being required to do so.

The mandatory meditation sessions are scheduled every two months, adding up to four per year, for first- and second-year students. Third-year students have a mandatory half-day workshop.

But there are also optional meditation sessions held each week.

"I actually enjoyed it and found it more enriching than I thought I would," Phillips said. "I don't usually participate in things like this. It's definitely a new perspective."

Positive response

MacLean said the response from students so far has been "overwhelmingly positive," although a few have said they'd rather spend the time studying.

Burned-out doctors make more medical errors, she added.

"What we really want to try and do is say, 'OK, what if we try and increase resilience and how can we do that?'" MacLean said.

"And part of that involves teaching them mindfulness and just being aware, maybe, how their own thoughts and emotions can negatively affect their mental health and well-being — and how awareness of that can actually provide some benefits."

MacLean, an assistant professor of neurology, said there's evidence that mindfulness training translates to better patient care. She said she tries to meditate every morning and has spent some time every day for more than a year meditating.

"I think of it like exercise," she said. "Or like a musician would tune their instrument before playing in an orchestra."

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