It’s a Wednesday afternoon, and first-year dental students are making their way to a window-walled room in the Creighton University School of Dentistry building, leaving their shoes at the door. They dab peppermint, eucalyptus or lavender essential oils onto their wrists and shuffle to yoga mats lined in orderly rows.
“Let’s focus on our breath,” instructs Barb Harris, PhD, and the group exhales in tandem. “It’s been a big week, with physiology yesterday and an anatomy test coming up. Just let that stress go.”
While it’s not your traditional first-year dental course, the new Program for Ignatian Mindfulness (PIM) is all about the Jesuit charisms of cura personalis, or care for the whole person, and men and women for and with others.
In addition to the required six-week first-year course, Harris hosts “drop-in” yoga and mindfulness opportunities for students, faculty and staff every week.
The innovative initiative was funded through a gift from Robin Khan, a 1996 graduate from Creighton School of Dentistry. Khan, who owns and practices at Dentistry for Health in Omaha and also teaches in the Periodontal Department, wanted to help ease the stress on dental students.
Khan has a son who is a third-year dental student at Creighton, and seeing him go through the rigors of school gave her a “vested interest” in focusing on the well-being of students.
“It’s a very competitive environment,” Khan said. “That competitiveness results in not the best atmosphere for body, mind and soul.”
The focus on patient wellness is another tenant of PIM, says Colette O’Meara-McKinney, assistant dean for student affairs.
“We hope (the future dentists) can help their patients with these tactics,” she says. “Dentistry can be stressful for the patient. It’s enabling students to view things from the lens of their patients, and I think it will serve them well.”
Garrett Teel, a second-year student from Lincoln, Nebraska, believes the yoga classes at the PIM Lab have been a worthwhile addition to the school’s offerings.
“(It) serves as an oasis, a place that I can easily escape to if I need to ‘reset,’” Teel says. “I always leave the yoga sessions with a feeling of satisfaction.”
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