Sitting in one spot in complete silence for more than 10 seconds does not come easily to those in the medical profession. From administrative staff to nurse practitioners, general physicians to surgeons, time is precious and oftentimes determines patient outcomes.
As medical professionals, we often feel pulled in several directions, with not enough hours in the day to accomplish all we set out to do. One patient is waiting for test results, another has been waiting to reschedule an appointment while there is an emergency in triage. On top of all that, it’s a holiday and you’re short-staffed. Facing this daily can be overwhelming and can lead to burnout.
Nitin Ron, MD, is a neonatologist at NYC Health + Hospitals/South Brooklyn who is working to address burnout among health professionals and show how the art of meditation can improve your daily attention and awareness.
“Meditation is a mental exercise that trains attention and awareness,” said Dr. Ron. “Through meditation we can equip medical professionals with a potent tool to combat burnout and stop the process by which they may eventually lose the joy in their lives and in their work.” This goes hand-in-hand with implementing systemic changes that would make the work environment conducive to internal happiness.
During a hike in the high mountains of the Himalayas, Dr. Ron spotted a group of monks who were walking peacefully in deep meditation. He immediately noticed that they were not dressed properly for the freezing temperatures.
“It occurred to me that there is more to the science of meditation than we give credit,” said Dr. Ron.
This experience launched his journey into researching meditation to see how effective it would be in hospitals, and how it affects interactions with colleagues and patients.
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress and can affect how you communicate with patients and colleagues. Meditation prevents ‘amygdala hijack,’ which causes the fight or flight response. “Meditation makes us aware of amygdala hijacking,” said Dr. Ron. “If the mind is still, we can identify what is causing the hijacking and disengage from it consciously.”
NYC Health + Hospitals/South Brooklyn Health is a teaching hospital filled with medical students from the New York Institute of Technology and St. George’s University. Medical students who participated in Dr. Ron’s research proved to be better prepared for exams and interviews. “To have the buy-in from the students was truly amazing,” said Dr. Ron.
Burnout vs Depression
It is important to distinguish burnout from depression. While burnout and depression show similar symptoms, such as changes in energy levels and moods, there remains a distinct difference. “Burnout can be controlled and prevented,” said Dr. Ron. “If burnout remains unaddressed it can cascade into depression.”
Symptoms of burnout are more recognizable, making it easier to treat and prevent than depression. When medical professionals experience burnout, they may no longer feel the joy they once felt in their work and begin to question their reasons for joining the medical field. However, once they begin to engage in activities outside of work, they can rediscover that joy. Depression, on the other hand, begins when an individual struggles to find joy in any aspect of their lives. According to the NIH, more than 300 physicians take their own lives per year in the US due to depression and burnout.
Dr. Ron continues to pursue his meditation research at NYC Health + Hospitals/South Brooklyn. His research involves burnout assessment, followed by meditation practice, with EEG studies before and after meditation. His team is in the process of analyzing the results, and he is looking forward to continuing the study with more participation. Dr. Ron has previously presented his research at the Pediatric Academic Societies Annual Conference (April 2023) and will present at the upcoming American Academy of Pediatrics Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. (October 2023). Dr. Ron hopes to eventually have this meditation program implemented in teaching institutions and hospitals across the country.
Dr. Ron is passionate about two things: saving babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and Mt. Everest, or, as he calls it affectionately, the “Mother Goddess of Earth.” Both the NICU and Everest inspire in him a sense of adventure.
“One should never get up in the morning without your heart beating fast with excitement for what you do each day,” said Dr. Ron. “Very few are ever enlightened fully, but as long as the aspiration is there that is good enough.”
During his Everest expeditions, Dr. Ron wondered how he could bring what he experienced while climbing into the hospital. “It is amazing how climbing at high altitude compares to what a child in the womb experiences,” said Dr. Ron. The further you climb, the lower the oxygen concentration; at a certain point, you’re taking in the same amount of oxygen as an infant in the womb.
Ever since he was a child, Dr. Ron wanted to go into medicine. His mother was his biggest inspiration, and she continues to be to this day. Now as a neonatologist, the smiles of mothers drive him to do more. Dr. Ron is passionate about helping people. Whether it is in the form of treating his patients or teaching meditation techniques to his colleagues, Dr. Ron is passionate about helping people present their best selves to the world and live their best lives.