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ASU student blends mindfulness, emergency nursing for the well-being of patients, providers

Denise Kronsteiner

John Yuhas has integrated the science of mindfulness into what is often considered one of the most stressful personal experiences: a visit to the hospital emergency room. As a registered nurse and experienced yoga instructor, Yuhas has been able to blend his expertise in emergency nursing with the gentle healing of meditation and the insights of yoga.

While nurses spend most of their time focusing their attention outward caring for their patients, self-reflection, Yuhas said, is the best place to begin, allowing nurses and other health care providers to first settle their own issues and problems.

“It’s humbling to work on myself so that I can start in a good place to help others,” he said.

He also believes slowing down and focusing attention on the moment is an opportunity to get people engaged, and to help patients become aware of their own thoughts and breathing.

“It’s a practice that promotes well-being that need not be cumbersome or complicated,” he said. “Small moments in silence can be powerful.”

In May, Yuhas, who lives in Palm Springs, California, will graduate from the College of Nursing and Health Innovation’s RN-to-BSN program — an online baccalaureate nursing program designed for registered nurses with an associate degree. He is also crafting a capstone project focused on mindfulness-based training as a modality of healing in nursing practice.

Some of Yuhas’ most rewarding moments in the emergency room have involved working with families during their times of personal crisis. During those times he used meditation, yoga and mindfulness to “bring the energy out of the rafters,” he said. “Sometimes just helping someone with their breathing can make a difference.”

Yuhas tells the story of one of those moments when he helped a patient who was in crisis. The patient had received a cancer diagnosis, was undergoing chemotherapy, and came into the emergency room fearful about her diagnosis and panicked by a rapid heartbeat due to complications with her treatment.

He stayed by her side and worked with her on her breathing. She regained a sense of calm so that she was better able to address the issues with her chemotherapy. A month later she came back to the hospital to let him know that the experience she remembered most about that night in the emergency room was the time he spent helping her with her breathing.

“In those moments, as a nurse, you’re practicing nursing,” Yuhas said. “In the ER, we are trained to carry out a series of life-saving tasks and interventions, but we also need to be mindful of how these interventions are impacting the patient's body, mind and spirit.”

Yuhas said he was drawn to meditation, in part, because it had a thread of discipline that he recognized from his service in the Navy, where he landed after high school. He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in mass communications, but later decided to seek out another path that felt more authentic and centered on service and teaching.

When he graduated with his associate degree in nursing in 2008 and passed his exam to become a registered nurse, he went to work as an emergency room nurse for the Cleveland Clinic. He earned certifications that supported his work in the emergency environment — pediatric advanced life support and advanced cardiovascular life support. He became a member of the Emergency Nurses Association.

The emergency environment engaged him from the start.

“I liked the fact that I could make a difference and deal with a focused problem,” he said. “I enjoy when things shift and change — to be able to meet a new challenge, do a new assessment, every hour even. There were a lot of opportunities to see the results of my work, to fix something right away.”

Yuhas has been practicing yoga for more than 15 years. He has taken his practice through various teachings and forms, with his daily practice now grounded in Ashtanga yoga. He completed yoga teacher training, studies in India during the summer months, and gives back to the community through his involvement in the Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine’s Street Medicine team made up of physicians, nurses and pharmacists who provide free health care to the local homeless population.

“We’re there for anyone who needs a health assessment,” he said.

Yuhas, 46, now works as a clinical nurse manager at Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Springs. In his new role he is able to spend time with his mentors and work on strengthening his diagnostic skills. After he graduates with his bachelor’s degree, he plans to return to ASU to earn his doctoral degree so that he can become a nurse practitioner.

His new role is a switch from the fast-paced world of the ER, he said, but the slower pace is enriching his practice. For Yuhas, slowing down and being more mindful means focusing on the present moment: “Taking the time as health care providers to be truly present with the patient may provide opportunities to reinforce a plan of care, teaching and compliance, leading to better outcomes.”

Yuhas has learned that by cultivating strong self-care practices, health care providers are better able to meet the needs of their patients.

“I truly believe that the more we inspire health care providers to operate from their own source of well-being, we have the opportunity to make a positive impact on our patients and the industry overall.”