Reduce Medical Resident Burnout with Mindfulness

Reduce Medical Resident Burnout with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Mindfulness meditation introduces a way of cultivating awareness of one’s relationship with the present moment. With practice, it may lead to healthier ways of working with stressful life experiences, including those inherent to residency training.” – Vincent Minichiello


Stress is epidemic in the western workplace with almost two thirds of workers reporting high levels of stress at work. In high stress occupations, like healthcare, burnout is all too prevalent. Burnout is the fatigue, cynicism, emotional exhaustion, sleep disruption, and professional inefficacy that comes with work-related stress. It is estimated that over 45% of healthcare workers experience burnout. Currently, over a third of healthcare workers report that they are looking for a new job. It not only affects the healthcare providers personally, but also the patients, as it produces a loss of empathy and compassion. Burnout it is a threat to the healthcare providers and their patients. In fact, it is a threat to the entire healthcare system as it contributes to the shortage of doctors and nurses.


Preventing burnout has to be a priority. Unfortunately, it is beyond the ability of the individual to change the environment to reduce stress and prevent burnout, so it is important that methods be found to reduce the individual’s responses to stress; to make the individual more resilient when high levels of stress occur. Contemplative practices have been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological responses to stress. Indeed, mindfulness has been shown to be helpful in treating and preventing burnoutincreasing resilience, and improving sleep. It would be best to provide techniques to combat burnout early in a medical career. Medical residency is an extremely stressful period and many express burnout symptoms. This would seem to be an ideal time to intervene.


In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness, burnout, and effects on performance evaluations in internal medicine residents.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Braun and colleagues recruited medical residents and had them complete measures of mindfulness, burnout, depression, and stress. They were also rated by the staff for their level of professional development.


They found that 71% of the residents met the criterion for burnout and this was associated with poor performance in their residency. Importantly, dispositional mindfulness, particularly “acting with awareness,” was significantly, negatively associated with meeting the burnout criterion, such that low mindfulness predicted a high likelihood of burnout. Burned-out residents tended to be low in mindfulness while resilient residents tended to be high in mindfulness.


These are interesting results, but were correlational, so causal relationships cannot be determined. Nevertheless, previous studies have demonstrated that mindfulness training can reduce burnout. This combined with the present results suggest that being mindful and acting with awareness are helpful for preventing burnout.  It remains for future research to demonstrate if mindfulness training can prevent burnout in medical residents.


So, reduce medical resident burnout with mindfulness.


“Having a greater ability to recognize what’s going on inside allows you to set aside distractions and really attend to the moment. Paradoxically, what you learn in meditation is that turning toward the distress and becoming curious about it rather than being swept away by it is a way to detoxify it. The more we try to escape the stress, the worse it becomes.” – Ron Epstein


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Braun, S. E., Auerbach, S. M., Rybarczyk, B., Lee, B., & Call, S. (2017). Mindfulness, burnout, and effects on performance evaluations in internal medicine residents. Advances in Medical Education and Practice, 8, 591–597.




Burnout has been documented at high levels in medical residents with negative effects on performance. Some dispositional qualities, like mindfulness, may protect against burnout. The purpose of the present study was to assess burnout prevalence among internal medicine residents at a single institution, examine the relationship between mindfulness and burnout, and provide preliminary findings on the relation between burnout and performance evaluations in internal medicine residents.


Residents (n = 38) completed validated measures of burnout at three time points separated by 2 months and a validated measure of dispositional mindfulness at baseline. Program director end-of-year performance evaluations were also obtained on 22 milestones used to evaluate internal medicine resident performance; notably, these milestones have not yet been validated for research purposes; therefore, the investigation here is exploratory.


Overall, 71.1% (n = 27) of the residents met criteria for burnout during the study. Lower scores on the “acting with awareness” facet of dispositional mindfulness significantly predicted meeting burnout criteria χ2(5) = 11.88, p = 0.04. Lastly, meeting burnout criteria significantly predicted performance on three of the performance milestones, with positive effects on milestones from the “system-based practices” and “professionalism” domains and negative effects on a milestone from the “patient care” domain.


Burnout rates were high in this sample of internal medicine residents and rates were consistent with other reports of burnout during medical residency. Dispositional mindfulness was supported as a protective factor against burnout. Importantly, results from the exploratory investigation of the relationship between burnout and resident evaluations suggested that burnout may improve performance on some domains of resident evaluations while compromising performance on other domains. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.

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