Improve Health Care Professional Self-Compassion with Mindfulness

Improve Health Care Professional Self-Compassion with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


Mindfulness is especially suited to physicians, because it can help counteract the worrying, perfectionism and self-judgment that are so common among doctors.” – WellMD


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. It not only affects the healthcare providers personally, but also the patients, as it produces a loss of empathy and compassion. Burnout, in fact, it is a threat to the entire healthcare system. Currently, over a third of healthcare workers report that they are looking for a new job. Hence, burnout 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 and improve well-being. Indeed, mindfulness has been shown to be helpful in treating and preventing burnoutincreasing resilience, and improving sleep.


One way that mindfulness may help reduce burnout is by improving self-compassion. Self-compassion is “treating oneself with kindness and understanding when facing suffering, seeing one’s failures as part of the human condition, and having a balanced awareness of painful thoughts and emotions” (Kristin Neff). This may reduce the perfectionism and self-judgement that is common among physicians and thereby reduce burnout.


In today’s Research News article “Effects of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on Self-compassion in Health Care Professionals: a Meta-analysis.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Wasson and colleagues review summarize and perform a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of mindfulness training in improving self-compassion in physicians. They identified 28 published research studies.


They found that the published research reports that mindfulness-based interventions produced significant improvements in self-compassion in a variety of health care professionals. The effects sizes were moderate and there were no indications of publication bias. These results are important as having compassion for oneself is a prerequisite to having true compassion for others and this is essential for patient treatment. In addition, self-compassion may inoculate the health care worker from burnout. Hence, mindfulness training is important for health care professionals.


So, improve health care professional self-compassion with mindfulness.


Mindfulness is growing in popularity as a way of promoting self-compassion among physicians. “This is all about being aware and in tune with yourself, learning to listen to your body and your mind so you know what you need and can give that to yourself.” – Kevin Teoh


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Rachel S. Wasson, Clare Barratt, William H. O’Brien, Effects of Mindfulness-Based Interventions on Self-compassion in Health Care Professionals: a Meta-analysis. Mindfulness (N Y) 2020 Mar 5 : 1–21. doi: 10.1007/s12671-020-01342-5




Health care professionals have elevated rates of burnout and compassion fatigue which are correlated with poorer quality of life and patient care, and inversely correlated with self-compassion. Primary studies have evaluated the extent to which mindfulness-based interventions increase self-compassion with contradictory findings. A meta-analytic review of the literature was conducted to quantitatively synthesize the effects of mindfulness-based interventions on self-compassion among health care professionals.


Twenty-eight treatment outcome studies were identified eligible for inclusion. Five cumulative effect sizes were calculated using random-effects models to evaluate differences of changes in self-compassion for treatment and control groups. Within and between group comparisons were evaluated. Sub-group and moderator analyses were conducted to explore potential moderating variables.


Twenty-seven articles (k = 29, N = 1020) were utilized in the pre-post-treatment meta-analysis. Fifteen samples (52%) included health care professionals and fourteen (48%) professional health care students. Results showed a moderate effect size between pre-post-treatment comparisons (g = .61, 95% CI = .47 to .76) for self-compassion and a strong effect size for pre-treatment to follow-up (g = .76, 95% CI = .41 to 1.12). The effect size comparing post-treatment versus post-control was moderate. One exploratory moderator analysis was significant, with stronger effects for interventions with a retreat component.


Findings suggest mindfulness-based interventions improve self-compassion in health care professionals. Additionally, a variety of mindfulness-based programs may be useful for employees and trainees. Future studies with rigorous methodology evaluating effects on self-compassion and patient care from mindfulness-based interventions are warranted to extend findings and explore moderators.


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