By Karin Krisher
Last week, we broached the topic of doctor burnout. This week, we want to talk about how to actually handle it with a little something called mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation benefits are far reaching, but perhaps the most obvious and relevant to you and your patients is a better ability to provide quality care.
Mindfulness is all about being present. It’s not about being comfortable when you are all alone in a room. (Though that is still important.) It is about being able to be fully in the moment and aware of the moment. It is about drowning out distractions that might remove you from the moment, and being open to both having and reflecting on the experience, rather than simply regarding it as one average event in a string of many.
Because your patients (and anyone, for that matter, including yourself) can easily sense if you’re running on autopilot, that tendency can be detrimental to your care and the doctor/patient relationship. If you, like many physicians, have noticed yourself slipping away into a sea of electronic distractions and paperwork, rather than focusing on every interaction’s quality, learning mindfulness will benefit both your mental state and your patients’ experiences.
Mindfulness Meditation 101
So, how is serene awareness learned? It isn’t easy to both let go and hang on at the same time. Letting go of distractions and grabbing tightly to the very fact of a moment with your patient seem like they would be mutually exclusive endeavors. But that’s not true: being present means you don’t zone out to ignore distractions—instead, you zone in.
There are meditation groups that can help. Some even specifically address physician burnout. In 2009, The Journal of the American Medical Association published results of a study that examined such a course, wherein physicians learned about “that ability to be in the zone and present in the moment purposefully and without judgment.” (The New York Times)
The results were incredible; “Several of the improvements persisted even after the yearlong course ended. And, those changes correlated with a significant increase in attributes that contribute to patient-centered care, such as empathy and valuing the psychosocial factors that might affect a patient’s illness experience.” (The New York Times)
The study’s author, Dr. Michael Krasner, later stated to a New York Times writer that “One of the most wonderful things about practicing medicine is that you have the opportunity to be in the middle of challenging events. Reflecting on those events while also holding them in your thoughts has to do with not only physician well-being but also patient healing.”
With that in mind, go forth. Seek out your own course, or begin one. Find a personal way to reflect and engage on a daily basis. And most importantly, work on remaining in the moment not only when you’re trying those techniques, but by default, so that every day--every experience—is as wonderful as it has the potential to be.