NEWS BLOG from UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Tips to Improve Problem-Solving Skills and Reduce Stress

The ability to solve problems can be improved and related stress reduced by understanding its physical and emotional impact and taking active steps to cope or remove the problem.

“No one leads a charmed life,” says psychiatrist Joseph Antonowicz, medical director of UPMC Altoona Behavioral Health Services. “No one gets out alive and no one escapes without scars. It’s part of being human. We all experience disappointments, pain, and lost dreams. We learn to live with it and manage it.”

Some cope with life challenges and stressors better than others, he said, defining stress as “a reaction to adverse things around you,” because each person perceives and interprets stress/pain uniquely. For example, one person may find getting a traffic ticket extremely upsetting. For another, it’s a minor inconvenience.

“One study looked at the levels of morphine required by soldiers who received shrapnel wounds in World War II and compared it to patients who had their gall bladder taken out,” Antonowicz said. “The study showed that the soldiers required less morphine, because in the context of war, being taken to a hospital away from the front where you are being shot at and shooting at people, was less stressful.” (more…)

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UPMC Reaches Lung Transplant Milestone

Growing up with cystic fibrosis, Michael Keller’s parents always encouraged him to lead as normal and active life as he could.

He joined the swim and soccer teams, ran track, graduated from high school, earned his college degree, and got married. It wasn’t until about seven years ago that his cystic fibrosis worsened, forcing him first to use supplemental oxygen at night to eventually requiring it 24 hours a day.

“My quality of life and longevity thus far can most definitely be attributed to my family pushing me to not let cystic fibrosis hold me back,” said Keller, of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. “A lot of milestones normal people would set, I set for myself.”

As the 32-year-old’s condition continued to deteriorate, his doctors in Hershey, Pennsylvania, encouraged him to establish a relationship with the UPMC Lung Transplant Program. Cystic fibrosis is a condition with no cure that damages the lungs, and a transplant eventually would be necessary. (more…)

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The Benefits of Mindfulness-Based Meditation

We asked Deanna Burkett, registered yoga teacher at UPMC Center for Integrative Medicine, for tips on practicing mindfulness-based meditation in the New Year.

What is mindfulness?

A. One of the most referenced definitions is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s description of mindfulness as an attentional quality, that is – intentional, present-moment and non-judgmental. Mindfulness is also defined as “to hold something in mind.” Mindfulness, in its non-secular context, communicates an element of remembering what to do with the present moment. This practice stitches the present moments together and helps us aim them toward our goals and resolutions.  

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

A. Mindfulness-based meditation teaches us how to relate differently to stress in our lives, and the results are wonderfully unpredictable.  One of the greatest benefits I’ve seen in my own life is in my relationships – my reactivity decreased, and this benefit translates into personal and professional arenas. For me, less difficulty and regret in relationships means less anxiety, sadness and rumination. Other researched benefits of mindfulness-based practices include decreases in depression and anxiety, reduced pain, greater ability to meet pain, better sleep and increased feelings of well-being.

What’s the best way to begin practicing mindfulness?

A. It’s helpful to have a teacher and a group to practice with regularly. If that isn’t available, there are applications, books, videos and online courses. At the UPMC Center for Integrative Medicine, I teach a weekly yoga class that has mindfulness as its context. Live situations like this give students a chance to ask questions and get personal feedback.

What would you suggest to people who say they are too busy for meditation?

A. I understand where they’re coming from, but I would ask them to make space for the idea that some time-consuming activities are simply habits that don’t offer us much in return. What would happen if we could learn new mental habits to help us live life differently, more skillfully and more intentionally? This isn’t a matter of meditation being “one more thing to do.” Meditation means setting out to learn a new habit, a new mental training that we can apply to our lives outside of meditation.

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Shulkin: Unusual Residency, Presidential Appointment

Dr. David Shulkin, announced today as President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Veterans Affairs, was a resident at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In its Winter 2016 issue, Pitt Med Magazine gave a peek into Shulkin’s time at Pitt. The article below was written by Nick Keppler.

The VA’s Under Secretary for Health, David Shulkin (center) and VA Secretary Robert McDonald (flanking him on the right) visited Pitt in November 2015. Credit: Mike Drazdzinski/CIDDE.

General medicine residents spend their days seeing patients, mastering clinical skills, absorbing a ton of information, and developing a bedside manner. When David Shulkin (Res ’89, Fel ’90) trained at Pitt, he also spent a lot of time going through stacks of file folders.

Shulkin, who had followed his wife-to-be, Merle Bari (Res ’90), to Pitt, where she pursued her dermatology residency, asked his advisors to allow him to study care costs at insurer Blue Cross of Western Pennsylvania. It was the first time a resident had made such a request, Shulkin recalls. “They were amazingly open to allowing me to explore my interests and my desire to understand how [the business of ] health care works.”

Shulkin would go on to manage huge health care systems, including one of the nation’s largest: the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

That early Pittsburgh study on health care costs was so fascinating and promising, Shulkin stayed on an extra year as a general medicine fellow to complete the project

His findings, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and covered on the front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, showed that doctors largely had no knowledge of the cost of the care they provided. This was leading to the rise of a managed care industry to keep costs in check—yet the increase in administrative costs was also raising the price of health care. “We were at the beginning of a trend showing health care costs were set to explode,” he recalls, “and as we now know, that’s become a fundamental issue in health care design.”

Shulkin would later spend four years as president and CEO of New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center and serve as the president of the New Jersey–based Morristown Medical Center. He also founded DoctorQuality, an early informational Web site for health care consumers. (more…)

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Strong Foundations: McKeesport Hospital Foundation a Mon Valley Cornerstone

This is the first in a series about the many hospital foundations that support UPMC’s mission to serve the community.

For 40 years, the McKeesport Hospital Foundation has remained a cornerstone of the Mon Valley Region, providing support for the community and UPMC McKeesport through grant funding, programming and other projects.

Heatherington Point is the foundation’s most recent project, one of its largest and most rewarding to date. Over the last decade, the board of directors of the McKeesport Hospital Foundation, in particular D. James Heatherington, former foundation board president and hospital board chair, has worked tirelessly to improve the environment surrounding the hospital campus. Finally, in 2015, the foundation’s vision became realizable with the purchase of 10 parcels on Fifth Avenue, directly across from the hospital’s D-Level entrance.

On Dec. 12, 2016, the finished surface-level parking lot, named in honor of Heatherington and his untiring efforts to advance this project for the benefit of all those connected to the hospital and the city, was unveiled and dedicated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The pride the foundation takes in providing the hospital with a secure and beautifully landscaped parking lot and the city with a newly redesigned visual entrance is unparalleled. The completion of this project is simply one more way in which the foundation has worked to improve the health and well-being of local residents.

The foundation also supports local nonprofits whose mission aligns with its bylaws and goals — those that work to achieve that shared goal in a way that the foundation cannot accomplish on its own.

Similarly, the McKeesport Hospital Foundation supports UPMC McKeesport through its grant-giving process. Each year, the hospital’s administrative team presents one or more proposals for which it would like the foundation to provide financial backing. Normally, these grants go toward infrastructure, equipment and aesthetic upgrades throughout the facility. The next project, a two-year commitment, will help provide a much-improved “front” entrance to the hospital through the courtyard. (more…)

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