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The University of Tennessee Medical Center

Working in the medical field can be stressful even in the best of times, but the COVID-19 pandemic has many medical professionals feeling overwhelmed.

To counteract this, professors Joan Rentsch of the College of Communication and Information and David Patterson of the College of Social Work are leading weekly sessions in mindfulness-based stress reduction with medical residents and employees at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

The Zoom sessions include short guided meditation practices for the 25 to 35 participants, followed by time for discussion and teaching. Sessions usually finish in less than an hour.

“Mindfulness practices can aid participants in responding to stressors in their lives,” Rentsch said, with research evidence revealing that physiological changes to the body include improved immune functioning. “These sessions provide participants with an opportunity for self-care within a community context during this stressful time, which is also very important.”

Patterson, who qualified to teach mindfulness-based stress reduction at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness, agrees that the evidence shows effective stress relief with this approach.

“The research shows that health care providers who regularly practice mindfulness have better connections with their patients, reduced changes of diagnostic error, are more effective in motivating their patients to make significant health changes, and have more positive attitudes and greater resilience,” he said.

The UT Medical Center sessions were not started in response to the pandemic, Rentsch said, but the timing wound up being perfect.

“The meetings also are open to doctors, nurses, and hospital staff, offering them a sort of quiet oasis of connection and community amidst all the activity,” she said.

Rentsch, the only certified mindfulness-based stress reduction instructor in Tennessee, began the weekly sessions the week after spring break and will continue them through mid-May. “At that point we will evaluate the program, but it’s our goal to continue offering mindfulness practices like this going forward,” she said.


Charles Primm (865-974-5180,

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