#355 Mindfulness in Medicine

28 September 2021

“Mindfulness training for physicians has been shown to reduce burnout, improve mental health and improve empathy to patients. Learning mindfulness may be the single most important skill you learn.” - Dr Craig Hassed

As the number of cases of COVID-19 in Victoria grows and the pressure on acute healthcare and primary healthcare increases, self-care and managing stress need to be at the front of every doctor’s mind. Whether you are working in the ED, deployed to the COVID-19 ward or in General Practice dealing with anxious and unwell patients and running vaccination clinics – you will be facing an increased workload. You may be a specialist struggling to find a bed for an urgent case who needs inpatient care or urgent surgery. There are going to be a lot of unwell patients needing care in addition to the usual workload. Our health system will be under pressure and that creates stress for all healthcare workers, including all members of the medical profession. Making sure you have a means of managing your own wellbeing is essential and mindfulness can be a valuable technique to use.


Mindfulness: the secret to doctors’ wellbeing

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness involves training oneself to pay attention to the present moment without getting caught up in the past or worrying about the future, and not reacting to experiences in the internal or external environment. Mindfulness is developed by practising a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness meditation involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) was established in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The program was developed for people suffering chronic illness and stress that was not responsive to conventional medical treatment. MBSR introduces participants to a range of mindfulness practices that foster awareness, acceptance and compassion towards their own internal experiences, including thoughts, emotional states, body sensations and behaviours. There has been a significant body of research that demonstrates the wide-ranging benefits of MBSR.

Mindfulness does not have to be a static practice and can be undertaken while you are involved in other activities, for example: walking, swimming, creating, knitting, baking and gardening. Many surgeons report that they are very mindful when conducting surgery as they are totally focussed on the task at hand and not distracted other thoughts which may cause anxiety. Mindfulness is especially suited to doctors because it can help counteract the worrying, perfectionism and self-judgment that is so common within the medical profession. Mindfulness helps doctors listen more carefully to their patients, show more compassion, and approach problems in a fresh, open-minded way.

Dr Craig Hassed, senior lecturer in the Monash University Department of General Practice and author of Mindfulness for Life, says doctors who practice mindfulness can be more effective. “For a doctor, to be mindful in practice means really paying attention to what you are doing and really listening to the patient, paying attention to the procedure, picking up the clinical signs and being aware of your own biases and thought processes. It makes doctors less likely to make a diagnostic error,” he says.

Dr Hassed also reports: “Mindfulness is taught to students from their first year at Monash and has been shown to significantly improve their mental health and quality of life, even during the high-stress exam semesters. Mindfulness training for physicians has been shown to reduce burnout, improve mental health and improve empathy to patients. Learning mindfulness may be the single most important skill you learn.”


Practical aspects of mindfulness

Mindfulness is:

What happens when we meditate using a mindfulness approach:

Studies into mindfulness have demonstrated the following benefits:

Mindfulness in Medicine:


Daily Mindfulness for doctors

This article is a brief introduction to mindfulness. If you would like to learn more and apply mindfulness in your life, participating in formal training with an accredited mindfulness practitioner is recommended. Due to COVID-19, most courses are now offered via Zoom or online learning.





Mindfulness apps

There are many mindfulness apps and these are some examples.

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