In 2011, OCOM Chair of Biomedicine Dr. Joe Coletto and Director of Student Affairs Nancy Grotton traveled to Baltimore, Maryland to participate in a Mind-Body Medicine training offered by Georgetown University Medical Center’s Dr. Aviad Haramati. The objective was to train facilitators from medical schools around the world in a program designed to support students in reducing stress levels and increasing self-awareness, so as to become more compassionate people and practitioners.

While Haramati developed the Mind-Body Medicine program to help medical school students, the program also realized additional benefits with the inclusion of faculty and staff in the process. Ultimately, Georgetown’s program proved so successful in reducing stress and increasing compassion that Haramati expanded its reach by offering the training to other medical school faculty and administrators across the US and around the world.

Coletto and Grotton attended Haramati’s training with the intention of introducing the Mind-Body Medicine curriculum to OCOM students, as well as interested faculty and staff, who would then lead Mind-body groups for students. Intention became reality in the winter of 2012, when they introduced the course. To date, OCOM’s Mind-Body Medicine program has engaged more than 70 students, faculty and staff.

An experiential meditation course, the 11-week Mind-Body Medicine program introduces a variety of mind-body approaches — including meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback, breathing techniques, art, music and movement — that can alleviate stress and foster self-awareness and self-care. Groups of 10 participants and two facilitators meet for two hours each week. Participants are asked to assess their levels of stress in the first class and again in the final class — this information is tracked via surveys and provides valuable feedback about the impact of the program on participants’ stress levels. At the end of the course, participants are encouraged to continue to engage in one or more of the meditation techniques they learned through the program, to help them maintain healthy levels of stress and continue to connect to their compassionate natures.

OCOM participant survey results have been extremely positive in demonstrating decreased stress levels. Given the great source of data the pre and post surveys provide, Coletto and Grotton have now developed a research project that tracks the course’s survey results to document quantitative and qualitative results. Their goal is to share those results with other medical schools to help inspire other schools to adopt the Mind-Body Medicine program. Coletto has successfully done so in Scotland and most recently for Georgetown’s Integrative Physiology master’s students.

Given the program’s success at OCOM over such a short period of time, Coletto believes the number of participants will not only continue to grow each year, but will help the entire college engage in a more positive way. “This program really represents cultural change,” says Coletto, “If enough people — students, staff, faculty — are more self-aware, it will make OCOM’s overall community a better educational institution and workplace, and help us provide better patient care.”

OCOM’s Mind-Body Medicine program is now a noncredit elective for master’s students, and has a growing waitlist. Students and facilitators who have completed the course continue to engage in the techniques they found most useful. “The meditation techniques I learned in the Mind-Body program are still as relevant to me now as when we were all going through the class it together,” said one participant. “It really helped me prioritize taking care of me so I could be more effective in other areas of my life, including work — and helped me build stronger ties to the OCOM community, too.”