The benefits of mindfulness for physicians

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Mindfulness—the ability to focus your awareness calmly and nonjudgmentally on the present moment—is becoming a popular technique among people of all ages, backgrounds and professions. The positive health effects of mindfulness have also been shown by a number of studies, although the exact neural mechanisms involved remain unclear. Practicing mindfulness can be especially effective in helping physicians increase their own personal well-being while improving empathy and psychosocial beliefs, which are attributes associated with patient-centered care. Mindfulness can help us deal with the stresses and frustrations that come with working in health care. To assist members in incorporating mindfulness into their lives, VPSA offered an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course over the fall months. Over 20 physicians and partners participated.

The workshop was led by Dr. Rahul Gupta, a family physician who is also a certified MBSR teacher through the University of Massachusetts’ Department of Medicine’s Center for Mindfulness.

“This course comes alive based on the comments of the participants and the curriculum allows a lot of room for context,” said Dr. Gupta. “Mindfulness permits us to build self-compassion and take better care of ourselves. There’s a peace that comes with that. It also helps us set limits and be clear about what we’re able to do and remain resilient. If we as physicians stay well, we can serve our community much better.”

Biochemist Dr. Sophia Wong was one of the VPSA physicians who took the MBSR course.

“My favourite thing was working through the materials with a cohort of fellow physicians,” said Dr. Wong. “It was an opportunity to really get to know my colleagues—to hear about the challenges they face and to learn that we actually all deal with the same, or very similar, struggles. Our day-to-day discussions with colleagues usually centre on patients or system issues, and personal questions are usually answered superficially, so it is rare for us to have an opportunity to really talk about our own well-being. Through this course, I truly felt that I was part of a community, even though we came from different areas of practice.”

Hospitalist Dr. Rod Tukker also found the course extremely helpful and applicable to his work.

“Dr. Gupta introduced great tools that are useful and practical for everyday use in a busy and complex job,” he said. “I also enjoyed being able to take the course with a group that was predominantly physicians who have similar busy lives. I actually believe that the busier you are the more you need to practice mindfulness. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and think you don’t have time, that’s when you can benefit most.”

Dr. Tukker says the lessons he learned have already helped him stay grounded and calm in overwhelming situations. “It’s helped me keep work in perspective. Our jobs can become the only thing on our minds but work is only one part of my life,” he said.

Dr. Gupta summed up his experience with the VPSA group: “You could feel the sense of affection and camaraderie that developed as well as each physician’s fascination with mindfulness and their commitment to its ongoing practice.”

Dr. Gupta provided follow-up resources for participants to continue their mindfulness journey, from monthly post-MBSR Mindfulness in Medicine online video meetings, to a list of websites, retreat centres, and apps to explore such as Mindshift and Headspace.

Mindfulness in medicine resources
Follow-up MBSR resources to support physicians

The VPSA Facility Engagement Initiative will be supporting another MBSR program in 2019; stay tuned for details.

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