Minding the mind in nursing school

Published September 1, 2019


Maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment through a gentle, nurturing lens. - Gale Kilnshaw

A nurse’s world revolves around the care of others. But who cares for the nurse? In nursing school, students learn how to provide patient-centered care, but their education is often lacking the elements of self-care and mindfulness – a practice that may aid in preventing burnout.

“Of course, happy nurses take better care of their patients, and this makes for much happier patients and probably healthier for that matter, too,” says Gale Klinshaw, MSN, RN, clinical lab coordinator at the School of Nursing.

During the Fall 2018 semester, Klinshaw and Jennifer Guay, DNP, CNM, RN to BS program coordinator and clinical associate professor, introduced mindfulness and meditation practices to students to utilize before exams and to promote self-care. As many can attest, nursing school, like nursing practice, can be extremely stressful.

Instructor watches students draw zentangles.

Gale Klinshaw looks on as students draw zentangles, a relaxing practice of creating images with repetitive patterns.

“We would like to send our students out with this mindful attitude, and hopefully it will be contagious and spread to the rest of the people they are working with,” says Klinshaw. “Some of them give up their nursing careers due to stress, and we’re constantly talking about the nursing shortage. My goal is for all of them to adopt their own mindfulness practices.”

Klinshaw is currently in the Mindful Counseling for Wellness and Engagement Advanced Certificate program provided by the UB Graduate School of Education’s Department of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology. Upon completion of this program, students earn an advanced certificate in mindful counseling for wellness and engagement registered with the Division of Professional Education, New York State Education Department.

In the program, the participants evaluate their own professions for stress – Klinshaw knew in nursing, from education to practice, there is an abundance. She was able to find several studies about nursing educators’ stress but found very little research related to stress in nursing students.

“This issue needs more attention, so I decided to do my project with students,” explains Klinshaw. She offers multiple mindfulness sessions at different times of the day to fit into students’ busy schedules. They engage in various mindfulness exercises like aromatherapy and zentangles (doodling) and always end in meditation.

“I noticed many students using the aromatherapy cotton balls during the exam,” says Guay.

“I use doodling during my exams,” says Cari Gavin, ABS ’19. “I go so fast and need to slow down – doodling helps me with that.”


Eventually, Klinshaw and Guay would like to pursue a grant to further the study of self-care for nursing students. They would like train faculty and provide additional resources for students, including a survey to determine self-care techniques students would like to learn, and maybe create a meditation room.

“I think it is really great for the exam but also really great for their careers,” Guay says. “They are going to deal with stressful situations as nurses, and I think it helps to teach self-care and how to maintain a sense of calm in challenging situations. That is an important lifelong skill.”