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SHU Nursing Professors Incorporate Mindful Meditation Into Curriculum

FAIRFIELD, Conn.—Faculty in Sacred Heart University’s Dr. Susan L. Davis, R.N., & Richard J. Henley College of Nursing (DHCON) has been ahead of the curve in determining the positive impact meditation can have on students. 

Even before the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) suggested nursing colleges should promote self-care, SHU faculty had incorporated mindful meditation into its nursing program with positive results. 

Mindful meditation teaches people to be present and in tune with their breathing, and to relax their minds and bodies. Christine “Dixie” Douville, clinical assistant professor, said research shows that nursing students face more stress than typical college students due to a rigorous workload and demanding clinical rotations. Their stress levels often increase when they graduate and enter the workforce, she added. 

While teaching a health and wellness course, Douville realized that incorporating mindful meditation into the curriculum could provide students with necessary tools to relax and regroup. She researched teaching approaches to meditation with Elizabeth Saska, nursing professor, and nursing alum Halle Boucher ’22, and recently presented their findings to the AACN.

How it started 
A nurse for 36 years and a professor at SHU for the last seven, Douville always had an interest in fitness, health and wellness. “Health and wellness are in my wheelhouse,” said Douville, who has run more than 20 marathons.

Driven by her passion, she teamed up with Saska in 2019 to teach a course about health, wellness and cultural diversity. Geared toward juniors, the course introduces students to the basic concepts, theories and methods people from various cultures employ to maintain health and positivity. “Everything we did was really well received,” Douville said. 

Then the pandemic hit, necessitating online classes, and the professors had to reimagine the course. 

Around this time, Douville was reminded about the benefits of meditation. She talked with Saska, and soon they had students practicing mindful meditation. 

Nursing students were assigned five meditation practices, and they completed a journal reflection after each session. At that point, the professors decided to research the true impact of meditation, and Boucher stepped in to help. 

By reading the students’ reflections and course evaluations, and surveying the students on their experiences, the group realized that meditation was a worthwhile practice. Their research found that “mindful meditation and self-reflection can be easily integrated into the curriculum” and that students benefit from it. 

One step ahead of the AACN
Around this time, the AACN, a national association that works to establish quality standards for nursing education, called for college nursing programs to incorporate self-care into the curriculum to help students develop skills to avoid burnout and potentially help with the attrition affecting the nursing profession. “This change came about when we were already incorporating self-care into our curriculum,” Douville said.

With a course and research ongoing, Douville and Saska first presented their findings at SHU’s academic festival with Boucher. Then the group presented survey results at a AACN conference in Chicago, IL, in November. “We discussed our course and our research, and we talked about integrated wellness across the University,” Douville said. 

The SHU course has evolved, and now the professors not only teach mindful meditation, but they explore music and color therapies as well. “We tried to introduce different activities to handle stress,” Douville said. When students enter class, they are asked to set three goals that don’t have anything to do with academics. Someone may want to walk more or learn to cook or write in their journal once a day. Goals can be anything, Douville said. 

From there, the professors introduce various therapies and activities to help students achieve balance in their lives. “We know students are going to encounter stress and anxiety, and that leads to burnout,” Douville said. “You can’t care for patients if you’re not caring for yourself.” Incorporating self-care into the curriculum provides students with tools to manage pressure and anxieties before facing the world outside of college. 

“We can’t wait for students to get out of school and excel without the burden of stress,” Douville said. “We’re addressing mindful strategies now and giving them the tools they need. Even if a student doesn’t value mindful meditation now, they’ll have it in their toolbox, and one day they may need to use it. We want them to identify these best practices for themselves.”

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About Sacred Heart University

As the second-largest independent Catholic university in New England, and one of the fastest-growing private doctoral institutions in the U.S., Sacred Heart University is a national leader in shaping higher education for the 21st century. SHU offers nearly 90 undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs on its Fairfield, Conn., campus. Sacred Heart also has a campus in Dingle, Ireland, and offers online programs. More than 10,000 students attend the University’s nine colleges and schools: Arts & Sciences; Communication, Media & the Arts; Social Work; Computer Science & Engineering; Health Professions; the Isabelle Farrington College of Education & Human Development; the Jack Welch College of Business & Technology; the Dr. Susan L. Davis, R.N., & Richard J. Henley College of Nursing; and St. Vincent’s College. Sacred Heart stands out from other Catholic institutions as it was established and led by laity. The contemporary Catholic university is rooted in the rich Catholic intellectual tradition and the liberal arts, and at the same time cultivates students to be forward thinkers who enact change—in their own lives, professions and in their communities. The Princeton Review includes SHU in its Best 388 Colleges–2023 Edition, and Best Business Schools–2022 Edition. Sacred Heart is home to the award-winning, NPR-affiliated radio station, WSHU, a Division I athletics program and an impressive performing arts program that includes choir, band, dance and theatre. www.sacredheart.edu

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