John Shepard has worked as a critical care nurse for Indiana University Health for more than a decade. IU Health is a system that’s well known for its cutting-edge programs, one of which John actually created. Have we got your attention yet, SHIFT Talkers?

With the support of leadership at IU Health Methodist Hospital, John started the Center for Mindful Practice, where he teaches meditation, breathing, yoga, and visualization strategies to treat burnout and anxiety in nurses and other health care workers. He graduated last year from the Mindfulness Training Institute as a certified mindfulness instructor and is a 2017 National Magnet Nurse of the Year.

So, what’s the story behind the program? Glad you asked. Several years ago, John found himself fed up and burned out, diagnosed the problem, and developed a solution. Even better – he took the solution back to his floor. While many nurses are skeptical of his approach at first, he routinely creates converts once they experience firsthand how much a mindfulness practice helps them—both personally and professionally.

We think John deserves a few minutes of your time, even if you’re not (yet) convinced that mindfulness is for you. Check out his interview below.

How did you get into mindfulness?

About six years ago I was working as a resource ICU nurse – and that’s kind of like a pool nurse, and it’s a stressful job. Every day you go to a different unit, wherever you’re needed, and a lot of that is determined by acuity of the patients and staffing and things like that. It’s kind of a tough job, and I started getting kind of stressed out. Just burned out, angry, losing my enjoyment – kind of becoming something of an a** to work with. And I realized I needed to fix it.

So I dove into, what is mindfulness? Why am I feeling this? I don’t want to feel this way. That led me to meditation, and I started a meditation practice in the ICU. A year later, I was awarded the National Magnet Nurse of the Year Award, and that got some attention. Ever since then, [IU Health] has asked me to find ways to embed mindfulness in the clinical practice and into our system wherever we can, whether you’re in a clinical role or a supportive role.

Tell us about the benefits of mindfulness for nurses

From a clinical standpoint, practicing mindfulness obviously helps you understand and recognize when you are lost in thought. Noticing when emotions are present that you maybe weren’t aware of, and where you are in the moment before you have an interaction with a patient, before you walk into a patient’s room. It’s practicing letting go of whatever it is that you’re bringing over from the previous patient or previous interaction or previous conversation and, not pushing it away, but saying OK, I’m aware of those thoughts. I’m aware of those feelings but right now, I need to be right here. From a safety standpoint and from an excellence standpoint, it helps us provide better care.

How does awareness improve patient care?

It helps us pay attention to where we’re at. Mindfulness helps us train our focus, so we’re not so distracted even in the middle of doing a procedure or listening to a patient. By practicing mindfulness, we can train that muscle of awareness and attention; I can be here and not get pulled away so easily.

So what does it look like on the floor?

I have a lot of support from our organization to bring all these things to the bedside. We train nurses how to be mindful when you foam in, like really using the foam to get in the present moment, so you can be in the moment for the patient. We bring mindfulness to the moment that you’re retrieving medication from our pharmacy cabinet, things like that.

I also do interventions –if I walk into a unit and see that it would be a good time to do one, I’ll pull everyone and say, “Let’s do a seven-minute practice.” I call it ‘yo-chi,’ which is a combination of yoga, tai chi, and meditation.

It took a little cheerleading, a little encouraging. Sometimes I get a no. But I get people together to do mindful movement and mindful breathing, and laughter yoga, which was really well-liked, just to break up the stress a little bit.

I also created “Yoga in Scrubs,” which we do outside or in our medical library. There’s an overhead announcement, and it’s a 20-minute yoga session for anyone in scrubs in the hospital.

Tell us about the mindfulness work you do with patients.

We have a Critical Care Recovery Center. They are worldwide, but there aren’t a lot of them. The idea is that basically, if you stay in an ICU, and you’re intubated and sedated even for just a couple of days, there’s a possibility you may experience symptoms of PTSD, including forgetfulness, trouble sleeping, irritability, and anxiety for up to two years. So in this clinic, patients are referred after their stay in the ICU, and we see them three or four times after they leave the hospital. It’s a multi-collaborative team, including pharmacy, mindfulness, cognitive assessments, chaplaincy if needed. It’s really exciting for me, to bring mindfulness to these patients.

What would you want a nurse who is new to mindfulness to know?

There are so many ways to apply mindfulness. It’s just all about the present moment – during your shift, asking, “What am I feeling?” – instead of waiting 12 hours to be like, “My neck is killing me!” Just noticing, and recognizing, and learning self-compassion.

Want to learn more about mindfulness? Check out these resources: