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Clinical Center News
September 2017

Mindfulness program reminds staff to care for themselves as well as patients

Three women involved in the mindfulness program standing together
Dr. Chung Jennifer Cheng and Dr. Ann Berger, both with the NIH Clinical Center Pain and Palliative Care Department stand with Dr. Rezvan Ameli, a National Institute of Mental Health representative in the Pain and Palliative Care service.

Being a healthcare professional at the NIH Clinical Center is incredibly rewarding, but at the same time it can be quite stressful for staff caring for patients with life-threatening illnesses. A new Mindfulness Self-Care Program for staff began in August, created by the Pain and Palliative Care Consultation Service. The program is designed to teach medical staff the skills to cope with this stress. All NIH staff are invited to attend.

"Medical staff can become so focused on caring for patients, they forget to take care of themselves," said Dr. Ann Berger, chief of the Clinical Center's Pain and Palliative Care Consultation Service. "The culture has been that doctors cannot be vulnerable by asking for help. This is not true."

Compassion fatigue can happen when a healthcare professional becomes so consumed with the suffering and condition of the patients that it creates traumatic stress for the staff member.

"This kind of stress and fatigue can have significant impact on the healthcare provider's own health and the care of a patient. It is imperative that Clinical Center doctors, nurses and other staff recognize the importance of self-care and methods for relieving stress," said Dr. Rezvan Ameli, with the National Institute of Mental Health. "We need to teach our staff the skills to strengthen their emotional resilience. That is what the Mindfulness Self-Care program is designed to do."

According to Ameli, mindfulness can engage a person's natural healing abilities to increase wellbeing on all levels — physical, psychological and spiritual. Mindfulness is paying focused attention to what is happening right now; at the core of mindfulness is the ability to accept all experience and suspend judgments and expectations.

It sounds really simple, but it requires discipline and regular practice to benefit from what mindfulness can offer.

In stressful situations, people often have thoughts of what ifs, regrets and past wrongs or fears and worries about the future that create additional stress and impede focus. Mindfulness helps spot this kind of thinking and allows a person to refocus on the present moment. This has been proven to have a healing affect. Mindfulness is a growing area of evidence-based research and practice, Ameli added.

Eleven men and women stand together during a class
Mindfulness program reminds staff to care for themselves as well as patients.

"It is a very healing process for people to center themselves, because if you are centered for yourself, you can be centered for others," Berger added.

The program at the Clinical Center consists of five sessions, each one and a half hours long, to teach participants how to practice and incorporate mindful attention in to day-to-day activities. Guided instructions in mindfulness meditation are part of the sessions. The program is offered in collaboration with the Clinical Center's Department of Spiritual Care — Chaplain Mike Zoosman is assisting with the course. While very interactive, the sessions are educational in nature and not intended as a form of group therapy or exploration of concerns outside of the workplace. The first session, which began in August, is underway and the second session will begin Oct. 6.

For more information, email or call 301-402-7360.

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