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UNI professor's research on medical workforce burnout and how to decrease patient stress in hospital settings to be published in prestigious Mayo Clinic Proceedings journal

June 14, 2017

Rodney Dieser, professor and mental health therapist, School of Kinesiology, Allied Health and Human Services, 319-273-7775,

Lindsay Cunningham, Office of University Relations, 319-273-2761,

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- University of Northern Iowa professor and mental health therapist Rodney Dieser's research on patient stress and physician/medical workforce burnout has led to a manuscript he co-authored to be published in the prestigious medical journal, Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Dieser co-authored the manuscript with UNI colleague Dr. Christopher Edginton and Renee Ziemer of the Mayo Clinic.

Rodney Dieser

The article, titled "Decreasing Patient Stress and Physician/Medical Workforce Burnout through Health Care Environments: Uncovering the Serious Leisure Perspective at Mayo Clinic's Campus in Rochester, Minnesota," discusses the importance of serious leisure activities within hospitals, which can be places of stress for both patients and medical professionals. Drawing on historical research regarding the leisure activities over the lifespan of Drs. William J. Mayo (1861-1939) and Charles H. Mayo (1865-1939), founders of the Mayo Clinic, and a contemporary case study analysis of the leisure offerings located at the Mayo Clinic Rochester campus, Dieser and colleagues explain how leisure programs relieve stress, provide healthy coping, and deliver self-protection from the negative health outcomes of extreme and prolonged distress.

“Research has shown that hospitals and clinics can be deeply stressful places for patients, physicians and other medical staff,” said Dr. Dieser. “Leisure not only can decrease the stress of patients, but it can also prevent burnout among physicians. Perhaps this is why Richard Lazarus, one of the most influential psychologists who studied stress stated that healthy coping, what he sometimes called psychological uplifts, that counter stress consist of engaging in hobbies, laughing, having fun, socializing and completing meaning-making task.”

Serious and casual leisure can minimize the impact of stress through enjoyable distractions that create psychological breathers, enable healthy coping through social support and the application of self-determination, and restore a sense of optimism through pleasant experiences in the face of intense stress.

The article outlines the plethora of leisure opportunities and programs located at the Mayo Clinic Rochester campus. A sampling of these include:

  •  The Humanities in Medicine art-at-the-bedside program, in which patients can engage in private lessons in art, music and creative writing while being hospitalized on campus.
  •  Grand pianos placed at various campus locations allow impromptu performances by patients and staff, which combine serious leisure skill by patient/staff performers and casual leisure for patient/staff spectators.
  •  The many parks, atriums, courtyards and gardens around and throughout the Mayo Clinic Rochester campus that allow both patients and medical staff a place for solitude, relaxation and meditation.
  •  The ubiquitous display of art (e.g., glass, paintings, ethnographic/folk art, sculptures) throughout the campus and the ever present musical concerts and performances, which can provide psychological breather from stress but can also create optimism and hope through pleasant experiences.
  •  Two patient-focused recreation-based community libraries on campus that offering DVDs, music CDs, children/youth/adult books, magazines and newspapers, desktop and laptop computers with internet access, board games, X-box and Play Station II consoles/games, social gatherings and knitting.
  • Peregrine Falcon program, in which the roof top of the Mayo building was converted to help with Peregrine Falcon restoration, in partnership with the Midwest Peregrine Society. Through a live camera with round-the-clock, real-time viewing, patients can watch female falcons lay eggs, baby chicks hatch, name the chicks, observe banding day and then track these birds throughout their lives on the internet.

Dr. Dieser suggests that “Leisure features, such as large fountains and sculptures, atriums, gardens and parks, music, art and a wall of windows that allows patients to experience sunshine are mediums to combat stress and psychologically transmit Mayo Clinic as a place of refuge, which, in essence, communicates to both patient and medical staff they are welcome and belong to this wonderful and hopeful medical facility and further communicates your comfort is the Mayo Clinic’s first priority.”

This article also suggests that Drs. William J. Mayo and Charles H. Mayo lived an “optimal leisure lifestyle” and this may have been one factor, among many other variables, that prevented them to not experience burnout and thrive in their vocation. In addition, this research study also postulates that Drs. William J. Mayo and Charles H. Mayo incorporated this health-based leisure framework at the Mayo Clinic through their own leisure pursuits that crossed over into the daily fabric of the early and developing Mayo Clinic.

The article ends by suggesting more research is needed in how leisure-based hospital and clinic environments can benefit patients, physicals and all medical staff.

The Mayo Clinic Proceedings is a prestigious, monthly, peer-reviewed medical journal published by

Elsevier and sponsored by the Mayo Clinic. It is the third highest circulating medical journal in the world, with 127,000 subscribers.

Dieser has been at UNI for 16 years and is a professor in the School of Kinesiology, Allied Health and Human Services and a licensed mental health therapist (tLMHC). One of his research areas is the interface of leisure and mental health. He has published over 100 articles and five textbooks and has written about the Mayo Clinic in his two upcoming books. One book is due out next month and the other is due out in the fall.

The full article and video interview with Dieser can be found at For questions or more information about Dieser's research, contact him at 319-273-7775 or