Study validates effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs for nurses

Study validates effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs for nurses
Study validates effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs for nurses

For oncology nurse Shannon Krus, RN, the hardest part of her job is when patients do not respond well to therapy and all treatment options fail.  As every oncology nurse knows, Krus said some days can be highly stressful. “Even though it is not your fault, there can be an overwhelming amount of sadness to constantly losing patients to their disease. The best thing that we do is remind ourselves that we have worked hard to make their journey to the end of their lives better or easier for them,” said Krus, who is 34 years old.

Krus has been working as an oncology nurse for 10 years, and to help lower her stress levels and avoid burnout, she runs on a regular basis. She runs 2 to 3 miles most days of the week. Now, a new study suggests she may want to consider adding a stress reduction program to her running regimen. Researchers in Minnesota report that nurses may be able to improve their health, and possibly the health of their patients, through an innovative mindfulness-based stress reduction program.1 The study findings demonstrate that implementing a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program can reduce employee stress and burnout.1


MBSR was developed in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center to teach patients with chronic medical conditions how to lead fuller and healthier lives. Lead author Dawn Bazarko, DNP, MPH, RN, describes mindfulness as a self-directed practice for relaxing the body and calming the mind by focusing on present-moment awareness.

Bazarko and her colleagues enrolled 41 female nurses from a large health care company in this study. The nurses participated in an 8-week course of guided instruction in mindfulness meditation practices. The program also included facilitated group discussions, stretching and yoga, home assignments, and individually tailored instruction and support.

“Nurses need interventions to help them with the challenges they face. Burnout is a real problem, and this is a program that could be beneficial,” said Bazarko, who is with the Center for Nursing Advancement, UnitedHealth Group, in Minnetonka, Minnesota. “The research in this area has just exploded, but we are one of the first to test this approach and study it in this manner.”

In the study, an MBSR program that replaced 6 of 8 traditional in-person sessions with group teleconference sessions was implemented. Bazarko said using teleconferences in place of in-person sessions allowed the program to be tailored to the needs and time constraints of nurses. All the nurses in this study were surveyed at three points: at baseline, at the end of the 8-week intervention, and 4 months after the intervention. The nurses were asked about their overall health, stress levels, burnout, self-compassion, serenity, and empathy.

The study demonstrated statistical improvements in the overall health and wellness of the nurses at each point of intervention. In addition, the nurses who continued their MBSR practice after the intervention showed even better outcomes than those nurses who did not continue the program. Bazarko said this type of MBSR program is a low-cost, feasible way to help health care providers who are unable to access traditional, on-site programs, and it may ideal for oncology nurses. “You are facing issues of death and dying, and the family issues and the social issues around it. So, I think it could be really helpful,” said Bazarko in an interview with Oncology Nurse Advisor. “Health reform and the pace of change continue to excel, and a tool such as mindfulness can help with all that.”  

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