Jul 27, 2023

Calm Doctors Make Good Doctors: Health Workers' Stress Reduction with Dr. Leandro Chernicoff & Dr. Mariana Gil-Veloz (podcast)

A "toolbox" encouraging the cultivation of inner strength is helping medical professionals stay grounded under stress, provide more attentive care, and ultimately flourish.

By Templeton Staff

Medical professionals commonly face overwhelm, stress, and burnout. These challenges existed before COVID-19 but significantly worsened during the pandemic. This podcast episode highlights how one program's simple tools are having positive impact not only in the lives of first responders and other caregivers, but also in the lives of their patients.

Listen to the podcast episode with the above player.

Key takeaways:

  • AtentaMente is a nonprofit in Mexico City that teaches social and emotional skills. With backing from Templeton World Charity Foundation, they've teamed up with the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to successfully pilot a mental health care intervention for health workers in Mexico. The program features a "Stress Toolbox." The pilot was tested with positive results in Guadalajara. A clinical trial is now being conducted across Nuevo León, Coahuila, Oaxaca, Querétaro, Campeche, Jalisco, and Sonora.
  • The Stress Toolbox was created to address the needs of healthcare providers who are operating in highly stressful circumstances and experiencing burnout. It offers specially designed techniques to help them become calmer, kinder, and clearer in their work. For this podcast episode, Dr. Leandro Chernicoff, co-founder and Academic and Research Director of AtentaMente, and Dr. Mariana Gil-Veloz, pediatric infectious disease professional and AtentaMente Stress Toolbox instructor, discuss the origin of the program and the need for the kind of support it provides.
  • "When we're going through a difficult emotional episode, most of our awareness is focused on certain kind of thoughts and experiences to the extent that your mind becomes fixed. The problem then becomes bigger, leading to longer stress response that's harder to manage," says Chernicoff. In the program, cognitive distortions that might be affecting stressed workers, such as "catastrophizing" or becoming fixated on problems, are identified, addressed, and ideally, assuaged, by practicing various techniques.
  • A main focus of the toolbox is to help the healthcare providers rediscover the deeper meaning and purpose in their work. Gil-Veloz observes that when healthcare workers center their thoughts around why they chose to become a caregiver or why what they're doing is important, "things change, because the focus it isn't you. Now the focus is the patient and the family."
  • One of the techniques the toolbox offers is "parar." It teaches participants to practice making pauses for empathy and better decision-making. They're encouraged to use their breath as a tool to mark this pause. Another tool in the kit is "socio-emotional vision", which guides the medical professionals to explore how they want to feel at work and in relationships. "These are techniques that we can use both to develop a quality of being present. And also as a way of calming down and being less reactive when we're very stressed," says Chernicoff. The intervention also teaches participants to practice active listening and cultivate gratitude. "If you develop these skills, then our assumption is that you will have a happier life," says Gil-Veloz."You will be able to relate better to others and with yourself."
  • Participants are reporting reductions in anxiety, depression, burnout, and stress, and have expressed appreciation for the skills they were taught. Chernicoff and Gil-Veloz believe based on participant results so far that the Stress Toolbox could have a future beyond serving healthcare professionals. 

Learn about the research project related to this episode.

Watch the related video.

Built upon the award-winning video series of the same name, Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” podcast features stories of new scientific research on human flourishing that translate discoveries into practical tools. Bringing a mix of curiosity, compassion, and creativity, journalist Richard Sergay and producer Tavia Gilbert shine a spotlight on the human impact at the heart of cutting-edge social and scientific research projects supported by TWCF.