A Program of Mindfulness Practice for Nurses at a Boston Cancer Center

By Jacob Molyneux, senior editor

The Thea and James Stoneman Healing Garden at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is a source of tranquility and relaxation for nurses, patients, and families. Photo by Sam Ogden, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The Thea and James Stoneman Healing Garden at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is a source of tranquility and relaxation for nurses, patients, and families. Photo by Sam Ogden, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Maybe you already practice some version of meditation or mindfulness in your daily life. If not, you may at least have read or watched a news story recently about mindfulness and its various uses with or by everyone from elementary school students to professional athletes to drug addicts in recovery to CEOs looking to improve their focus, as well as many of the rest of us.

Or maybe you saw the final episode of the television series Mad Men a few weeks ago, with the advertising man Don Draper sitting cross-legged at a California coastal retreat, deep in meditation.

Some critics of a few of the more profit-driven uses of mindfulness practice have been at pains to remind us to at least keep in mind that such practices are often derived from ancient traditions that also espouse less materialistic values, such as compassion, generosity, selflessness, openness.

Whatever the origins of such practices, many people are finding out for themselves that life may seem a little more sensible and meaningful if they regularly stop to cultivate certain kinds of attention, even for just a few minutes at a time. The Cultivating Quality article in the June issue of AJN, “Cultivating Mindfulness to Enhance Nursing Practice,” describes a pilot program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston that seems an excellent use of mindfulness practice. Here are the opening paragraphs:

In today’s fast-paced health care environment, nurses often find it difficult to be truly present for patients. Constantly on the go, nurses are continually adjusting and balancing priorities, while call lights, upcoming tasks, and patients’ needs compete for their attention. The hectic pace and nurses’ attempts to multitask make it difficult for them to focus deeply on their patients, contributing to nurses’ work-related stress and risk of burnout.

Mindfulness-based practices, such as meditation, breathing, and visualization techniques, and mindful movement, including walking, yoga, and tai chi, have been growing in popularity as complementary treatments for many health conditions. While research on mindfulness-based or contemplative practices is still in its infancy, and much of it has focused on short-term practice and outcomes, there is compelling evidence that health care providers can use mindfulness-based practices to reduce their stress and to improve provider–patient communication and outcomes.

In 2011, we and other nurse leaders at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI), a comprehensive cancer center in Boston, took stock of the challenges nurses face in the work environment and committed to introducing a multifaceted mindfulness program for clinical nurses and other members of the nursing and patient care services team. We believed mindfulness could be useful in helping nurses and other employees manage stress and reclaim opportunities to more fully connect with patients and families. In this article, we discuss the DFCI mindfulness program and its outcomes, and describe how nurses in all settings can use mindfulness-based techniques to enhance their well-being and the care of patients.

We may be hearing more about such programs in the coming years. While they’re no substitute for adequate staffing and other types of management support for nurses, such programs will surely benefit some nurses, and may in the end improve care for patients as well. But click here to read the full article.

Bookmark and Share

About the Author:

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.

Comments are moderated before approval, but always welcome.