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Med Educ Online. 2013 Apr 30;18:1-8. doi: 10.3402/meo.v18i0.20699.

Embodied health: the effects of a mind-body course for medical students.

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  • 1Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02118, USA.



An effective career in medicine requires empathy and compassion, yet the demands of a medical education increase stress and decrease students' ability to connect with patients. However, research suggests mind-body practices improve psychological well-being. This study aimed to evaluate the psychological effects on medical students of an 11-week elective course, Embodied Health or EH, which combines yoga and meditation with neuroscience didactics.


The effects on 27 first- and second-year medical students were evaluated via surveys in four areas: empathy, perceived stress, self-regulation, and self-compassion. Scales used were 1. Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy, which measures empathy among health students and professionals and medical students on a scale of 1 (least empathetic) to 7 (most empathetic); 2. Cohen's Perceived Stress Scale, a measure of the perceived uncontrollability of respondents' lives, from 0 (least stressed) to 4 (most stressed); 3. Self-Regulation Questionnaire, which measures the development and maintenance of planned behavior to achieve goals, from 1 (least self-regulated) to 5 (most self-regulated); and 4. Self-Compassion Scale, which measures self-criticism, from 1 (least self-compassionate) to 5 (most self-compassionate). Students also reflected on EH's impact on their well-being in a post-course essay.


Self-regulation and self-compassion rose 0.13 (SD 0.20, p=0.003) and 0.28 (SD 0.61, p=0.04), respectively. Favorable changes were also seen in empathy and perceived stress, which went up by 0.11 (SD 0.50, p=0.30) and down by 0.05 (SD 0.62, p=0.70), respectively; these changes did not reach statistical significance. Students' essays were found to discuss the following recurrent themes: 1) Reconnection between mind and body; 2) Community in a competitive environment; 3) Increased mindfulness; 4) Confidence in use of mind-body skills with patients; and 5) Stress management. These themes overlapped with the measures EH affected quantitatively.


A mind-body course for medical students increased self-regulation and self-compassion. Qualitative themes discussed in students' post-course essays reflected these effects.


Yoga; complementary medicine; empathy; integrative medicine; meditation; mindfulness; perceived stress; self-compassion; self-regulation; well-being

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