Original Research

An online mindfulness intervention for medical students in South Africa: A randomised controlled trial

Nicola Boyd, Debra G. Alexander
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 28 | a1840 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v28i0.1840 | © 2022 Nicola Boyd, Debra G. Alexander | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 08 November 2021 | Published: 27 May 2022

About the author(s)

Nicola Boyd, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa
Debra G. Alexander, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa


Background: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, an association was observed between medical students’ stress, possibly because of an intensive academic workload and clinical responsibilities, and mental ill health. The literature has shown the benefit of online mindfulness interventions for different mental health challenges. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of information on their benefit to medical students in South Africa.

Aim: The aim of this study was to explore whether medical students attending an online mindfulness-based intervention (MBI) would show improved resilience and stress management compared with attendance at an online supportive counselling (SC) programme. Secondary to this was the viability of the intervention, for which an in-depth understanding of participants’ experiences was sought.

Setting: The study setting was online through https://zoom.us/.

Methods: Forty-five participants were randomly allocated between two 6-week, teacher-facilitated groups. A repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) of outcome, well-being, perceived stress and self-compassion scores conducted at three time points, as well as thematic analysis of participant feedback, contributed to quantitative and qualitative data.

Results: Participants in both the groups showed significant improvement over time in measures of well-being, perceived stress and subjective stress management. Participants in the mindfulness group showed a statistically significant treatment effect in mindfulness at programme completion. A decrease in self-compassion over time was observed in both the groups.

Conclusion: The results of this study indicate that in this South African medical student cohort, an online MBI and a SC programme are both feasible and show potential for reducing stress, increasing stress management and increasing resilience. Further study in this area is recommended.


online mindfulness-based interventions; medical students; well-being; perceived stress; self-compassion


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