Context: Medical education is stressful and can adversely affect the health and well-being of students. Although mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been successfully utilized in other settings, little is known about the use of student-led interventions in undergraduate medical education.
Objectives: The objectives of this study are to assess student satisfaction with four student-selected and student-led mindfulness activities incorporated into mandatory small-group sessions, the immediate impact of these activities on student stress levels, and student use of these activities outside the mindfulness sessions.
Methods: First-year osteopathic medical students voluntarily participated in weekly student-selected and student-led mindfulness activities once a week for 8 consecutive weeks during regularly scheduled class time. Activities included yoga postures, the 4-7-8 breathing technique, progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), and values affirmation. Each activity was completed twice during the 8 weeks. After each session, students could anonymously complete an electronic survey assessing participation, change in stress level, satisfaction with the activity, and mindfulness activities practiced outside the session. Survey questions included dichotomous, Likert-like, and multiple-choice responses. A chi-square test was utilized to analyze student responses from each week about the decrease in stress level, and satisfaction with the mindfulness activity, and student use of the activities outside the classroom. Wilcoxon rank sum tests were utilized to determine associations between outcomes, and a logistic regression model was utilized to determine relationships between the change in stress levels and other outcomes.
Results: Of the 154 first-year medical students initially enrolled in the 2021–2022 academic year, 14 (9.1 %) to 94 (61.0 %) actively participated in the weekly mindfulness activities. Students indicated that the 4-7-8 breathing technique was the activity most practiced outside the mindfulness sessions (32.3 %, 43/133 total responses) across all weeks. The mindfulness activity with the highest percentage of reported decrease in stress level was the yoga postures in week 5 (94.8 %, 36/38), and both weeks of the yoga activities had the highest reported student satisfaction (95.7 %, 90/94 for week 1; 92.1 %, 35/38 for week 5). For students who answered the change in stress level question, the stress level decrease was related to participation in the weekly activity for weeks 1 through 7 (all p<0.03). For students who participated in mindfulness sessions, the odds of reporting a reduction in the stress level were 16.6 times (95 % CI, 6.8–47.2; p<0.001) that of students who did not participate. For those satisfied with the activities, the odds of reporting a reduction in stress level were 6.7 (95 % CI, 3.3–13.9; p<0.001).
Conclusions: Results suggested that the student-selected and student-led mindfulness activities may successfully reduce medical student stress in students who actively participate. However, additional research is needed to determine how to optimize mindfulness curricula implementation.