Blending mindfulness with traditional healthcare

Melanie Black embodies Northeastern’s cross-disciplinary approach to healthcare, working to integrate the skills she learned in her previous career as a mindfulness and yoga instructor with her training in Bouvé’s Master of Nursing program.

Her current clinical rotation at the VA hospital in Bedford, MA, provides an excellent example of how mindfulness could be used to supplement traditional medical treatments for PTSD and other anxiety disorders, she says.

Melanie Black - Bouvé College of Health Sciences

Melanie Black, MSN’20 – Photo by Bill Ibelle

This belief is based on more than her personal passion for holistic health. Black is a firm believer in Northeastern’s evidence-based approach to clinical practice.

“The research is showing more evidence that mindfulness, yoga, and increased awareness of body movement can calm parts of the brain associated with anxiety and depression,” she says. “And it’s not just PSTD, this is useful for the general population as well.”

Black has been driving herself hard to become a nurse practitioner. While shouldering a full load of graduate courses, she works full-time as an RN on the trauma unit at Beth Israel Hospital; and until recently, she also worked as lead singer in a popular Cape Cod rock band.

Northeastern recently honored Black’s determination by awarding her the 2019 School of Nursing Graduate Student Scholarship.

The winding road

Like many graduate students, Black has taken a twisting path to her career goals. Her initial plan was to go to med school, then midway through her undergraduate studies at UMass Amherst, she seriously considered becoming a farmer. In the end, she developed her own major in holistic health and agriculture.

After graduation, she backpacked across South America for six months, before returning to Cape Cod to work as a certified mindfulness and yoga instructor—and moonlight as a local rock star in the evenings. It was a wonderful life for someone in their early 20s, but there came a point when she knew it was time to get serious. When a friend from the band suggested she become a nurse practitioner, Northeastern had the perfect program.

With no experience in nursing, she was accepted to the Direct-Entry Nursing (MS) program, earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and began working at Beth Israel as an RN. She is on track to complete her MSN in 2020.

A work in progress

Black is the first to admit that she’s still working out how to integrate her mindfulness training into a traditional healthcare setting. One idea is to develop a mindfulness television channel in hospitals like the VA and Beth Israel.

“They have televisions in every room and already have channels to instruct new mothers and cancer patients, so why not create a station that patients can tune to for training in mindfulness?”

But she wants to take it farther than that, by finding ways to make mindfulness and body awareness standard part of patient recovery services. Two of her clinical rotations immediately come to mind—the VA and a drug and alcohol treatment center in a rough South End neighborhood.

“I know that these patient groups are a ripe audience for these skills,” he said.

She also knows that private yoga training is expensive and not likely to attract the kind of patients who frequent VA hospitals and drug treatment centers.

“How comfortable is your average Joe going to be walking into an open yoga studio where they’re playing ‘Om’ in the background?”

Join Professor Thomas for his exciting new course offered this Spring

Introductory Skills for Healthcare and Rehabilitation (HLTH 2001).

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