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New Dominican Zen team creates holistic approach to health care in Santa Cruz County


Born from the desire of both patients and caregivers to find more integrative ways to address healthcare, Dominican Hospital’s newly unveiled Dominican Zen program seeks to do just that … stat.

“The hospital experience can be intense and anxiety-provoking,” says Jared Marks, director of patient experience at Dominican. He and the rest of the Dominican Zen team feel that the program can help improve on that by increasing comfort, reducing stress, and promoting healing.

Dominican Zen has three main integrative approaches to healthcare, the first of which is an aromatherapy program.

“A lot of medications and therapy aren’t really productive, so we wanted to take a holistic approach,” says Jackie Stallings, Telemetry Care Unity (TCU) and aromatherapy nurse at the hospital. “The brain utilizes smell to assess negative situations,” she says, noting that a positive stimulus like a pleasant odor can distract from feelings of anxiety, nausea, and pain. “This helps medications work more effectively because patients are more relaxed.” One essential oil being used to produce these scents is lavender, which Stallings says helps with relaxation and insomnia.

A 1999 International Journal of Neuroscience study found that participants given aromatherapy with lavender showed a less depressed mood, and increased feelings of relaxation and drowsiness. Other essential oils used include peppermint, which helps with pain relief and nausea, and mandarin, which Stallings says has antidepressant effects and is known as the “oil of joy.” She says the aromatherapy program has already gotten a lot of positive feedback, in part because it allows the patients to deliver their own aromatherapy both in the hospital and at home, and has even been extended to family members of patients and hospital staff.

The second component of the Dominican Zen program is guided meditation. Lillian MacMinn, Performance Excellence Director at the hospital, says they offer a variety of options. “The purpose is to cultivate mindful awareness and emotional balance around well-being,” she says. Not only are CD players being made available to patients with different meditation programs, MacMinn says that members of the hospital’s spiritual care team are also trained on meditation. This approach has been scientifically supported, including a 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry which found that a mindfulness-based stress reduction program did lead to less anxiety and distress in participants. Additionally, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience  found that participants using mindfulness meditation reported reduced pain intensity and reduced pain unpleasantness.

Another way that the Dominican Zen program helps to create a better patient experience is through the use of sound therapy. “It’s about appealing to multiple senses and creating a more peaceful, relaxing environment,” says Marks. He says that sound spas are available in every room, and feature sounds like ocean, rain, summer nights, and streams. Marks says that not only are these sounds relaxing, they also help to reduce the impact of other potentially stressful sounds that can exist in a hospital.

The Dominican Zen team continues to explore other integrative ways to help manage anxiety, nausea, and pain. They continue to monitor the program and receive feedback from patients, supporters, and doctors. One future potential component is massage therapy, which may also help reduce stress and improve the well-being of patients, as well as family members and staff.

The team is encouraged by early results, and by the positive response that the program has received. “It has been strongly supported by the hospital administration, management, sister sponsors, physicians, and the Dominican Hospital Foundation,” says MacMinn, adding that the program has already expanded to the hospital’s cancer and birthing centers and has also garnered a lot of interest from other parts of the hospital.

MacMinn says that one of the most positive outcomes of the program so far is that patients using the Dominican Zen therapies don’t need as much pain or anti-nausea medication, both of which can have negative side effects. “It’s about taking care of the patient’s mind, body, and soul,” she says. “You can’t separate those things.” Marks agrees, and emphasizes the positive impacts of these therapies when delivered alongside traditional medical care. “It empowers patients to become active participants in their own health and wellness,” he says. “The integrative care allows patients and staff to find comfort through the Dominican Zen program,” says Stallings. “It gives hope to patients and uses holistic treatments to help the body better respond to stressful situations.” Who knew Dominican Hospital has a director of patient experience, a director of performance excellence, an aromatherapy nurse, and a Dominican Zen team? “It’s all about the patient,” says MacMinn.


For more information about the Dominican Zen program, contact the Dominican Hospital Patient Relations Team at 462-7722.


  • EdZachary

    Whenever I hear someone talking about “holistic medicine” I also start to hear the voodoo drums beating in the background. I’m disappointed that Dominican would add a program based on mumbo jumbo concepts to their otherwise outstanding healthcare.