“Physician, Heal Thyself” with Mindfulness


“As physicians we owe our patients two things– only two things– our time and our skill. We do not owe our patients our lives. To excessively devote our lives to the practice of medicine while we neglect other aspects of living may be tantamount to never having lived at all.” – Joseph D. Wassersug, M.D.


Primary healthcare provides are a critical component of any healthcare system. Yet there is a shortage of primary care providers. It is estimated that there is a shortage in the U.S. of over 9,000 physicians. The shortages are not just due to training insufficient numbers of healthcare provides but also due to high turnover rates. In part because of the shortage and high patient loads, primary healthcare providers experience high stress and burnout. They experience a loss of enthusiasm for work, feelings of cynicism, and a low sense of personal accomplishment.


In a recent survey 46% of all physicians responded that they had burnout. Currently, over a third of healthcare workers report that they are looking for a new job. Nearly half plan to look for a new job over the next two years and 80% expressed interest in a new position if they came across the right opportunity. Since there is such a great need to retain primary healthcare providers, it is imperative that strategies be identified to decrease stress and burnout.


Mindfulness is a possible help in reducing perceived stress and burnout. Indeed, high mindfulness has been shown to be associated with less stress and burnout in emergency medicine personnel (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/10/burnout-burnout-with-mindfulness/). This is promising and suggests theat there is a need for continued research into the relationship of mindfulness and stress in primary healthcare providers.

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness, perceived stress, and subjective well-being: a correlational study in primary care health professionals”



Atanes and colleagues performed a survey of 450 primary healthcare provider in Brazil, including family physicians, registered nurses, nursing assistants, and community health workers. They measured mindfulness, perceived stress and subjective well-being and found that these groups reported high levels of perceived stress. Importantly, they found that high levels of mindfulness were associated with low levels of perceived stress and high levels of subjective well-being.


These results suggest that mindfulness is to some extent and antidote to high stress and burnout in primary healthcare providers. There are a number of benefits to mindfulness that could be responsible for the reduced perceived stress and increased well-being. In particular mindfulness has been shown to reduce both physiological and psychological responses to stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/destress-with-mindfulness/). Mindfulness has also been shown to increase emotion regulation which prepares the individual to experience and respond to emotional situations appropriately and thereby reduces stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/be-smart-about-emotions/). Finally, mindfulness is associated with higher levels of focus on the present moment. This tends to reduce catastrophizing, worry, and anxiety (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/stop-worrying/) and thereby can reduce psychological stress in primary healthcare providers.


These results are potentially important and strongly suggest that the employment of mindfulness training might help primary healthcare providers deal with the stresses of their work environments. This need to be studied with controlled trials. Additionally, the results may have more far reaching applicability than just to the healthcare field. Mindfulness may help with all kinds of stresses in all kinds of situations. Obviously more research is needed in this promising area.


So, practice mindfulness and heal thyself from stress and burnout.


“Stress, burnout and strain on the human heart are all increasingly taking their toll for millions of hardworking people. However, even someone who is working in a job that simply ‘pays the bills’ can turn mundane and stressful tasks into pleasant activities with a slight adjustment in attitude and by adopting a daily mindful practice.” ― Christopher Dines
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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