Koru Mindfulness program helps osteopathic medical students achieve inner peace


This year, mental health has taken the spotlight as anxiety and depression continues to affect millions of people in the United States. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, more than half of Americans reported COVID-19 as having a negative impact on their mental health.

Many of those experiencing this reality include medical students all over the country. Symptoms of depression and anxiety, trouble sleeping and feeling overwhelmed in social and academic settings are all issues that are proving to be difficult to overcome in order to maintain calmness in daily life.

Fortunately, MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine has adopted an evidence-based program, the Koru Mindfulness program, designed to teach mindfulness and meditation in order to better manage stress and reduce anxiety.

Developed over the course of a decade by psychiatrists Holly Rogers and Margaret Maytan, the program was designed to teach and discuss benefits of mindfulness to students they worked with at Duke University.

“Outcomes from their research showed students reported greater capacity to manage stress, burnout, sleep and self-compassion,” said John Taylor, director of wellness and counseling services. “This is a four-week, 75-minute course which teaches skills in meditation and mindfulness/ self-awareness.”

Koru classes follow a curriculum covering various mindfulness skills through reflection, discussion, readings and guided practice. Collectively, this helps students in reducing distraction, boosting mood and self-compassion, lessening anxiety and relaxing so they can fall asleep.

This semester, Taylor has offered three consecutive classes. The enrollment is limited to approximately 12 students which leads to optimal balance in class interaction. 

“I had not really taken the time to think about my emotions, breathing, or the way that my body was feeling before this class,” said Emma Ford, first-year medical student in the College of Osteopathic Medicine. “The program gave me a great reason to take 10 or so minutes each day to focus on myself and my emotions.”

Participants learn mindfulness skills that can be utilized outside of the 4-week course and in their own lives, leading to improved management of emotional stress. When all students register for their Koru class, they are directed to download a phone app to log their daily practices.

“We live in one of the more stressful academic environments out there,” said Aaron Mahoney, a second-year medical student in the osteopathic college. “This class normalizes self-care and gives the participant a multitude of tools in his or her toolbox to stay calm, grounded and present.”

In today’s climate, students are sent a Zoom link for each upcoming class where they all meet in the virtual gallery with their cameras on. It holds a similar format to the in-person class except students unmute their microphones to share their experiences of homework and to ask questions. 

The class begins with each student discussing how their meditation practice has been going. Taylor is then able to review student’s log entries between classes to provide encouragement and feedback.

Since last fall, more than 10 classes with a total of 115 students have been trained in the Koru method. Student feedback has been positive with many reported improvements in emotional self-regulation and anxiety reduction.

“I see tremendous potential for Counseling & Psychiatric Services at MSU and residential neighborhoods to introduce Koru,” Taylor said. “Students seem very interested and would benefit from learning ways to manage their stress to optimize academic success.”