It’s happening: spirituality in the doctor’s office

Here’s a little something I wrote over at Deconstructing Dharma. This post takes a bit of a turn from what I typically discussed at College Kid Yoga, but I’m in the mood for a bit of a change over here. Check it:

If the phrase “spirituality in the doctor’s office” conjures up images of healthcare providers burning incense and using mala beads to heal their patients’ maladies, think again (though incense and mala beads can be used to support healing). To combat the debilitating effects of burnout syndrome, many physicians, nurses, and physician assistants have turned to mindfulness. Mindfulness refers to the ability to be fully aware of one’s self the present moment, and has helped providers feel more positive about their ability to help people, to focus better on patients, and to feel more organized and calm as they attend to the paperwork, phone calls, and meetings that fill their days.

NYT blogger Pauline M. Chen writes about “promising research that points to mindfulness.” A series of studies have demonstrated a correlation between healthcare providers who have been trained in mindfulness and improved patient interactions. For example, in a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Michael S. Krasner aimed to determine whether intensive training in mindfulness, communication, and self-awareness is linked to increased well-being within physicians and an improved capacity to relate to their patients. After having 70 primary care physicians complete an 8-week training intensive, followed by a 10-month maintenance phase, Dr. Krasner found that participation in this program was associated with short-term and long-term improvements in well-being and attitudes about patient interactions.

mindfulness meditation 02.13.13While relatively little research about training healthcare providers in mindfulness exists, a few studies have come out about making mindfulness training more accessible (i.e. less of a time commitment than Dr. Krasner’s program) to providers. In fact, one doctor supplemented his abbreviated mindfulness training with online tools. Dr. Luke Fortney, lead author of “Abbreviated Mindfulness Intervention for Job Satisfaction, Quality of Life, and Compassion in Primary Care Clinicians: A Pilot Study” and an integrative and family medicine physician at the McKee Clinic in Madison, Wis., turned to the internet. Along with his colleagues, Dr. Fortney created a website that contains graphics, worksheets, and audio and video files to reinforce the principles of “Pause, Presence, Proceed” that clinicians can implement into their own practices. For example, “pausing” asks physicians to “stop, take a breath, drop in, and notice this moment” in their offices, while they’re walking to a meeting, and before they enter a patient room.

Doctor burnout is a serious problem that requires a serious solution. The philosophy behind being mindful (something that I contend EVERYONE should do) not only combats burnout, but also moves clinicians closer to their dharma. Practicing mindfulness can help providers reclaim (often in an instant) their purpose for doing what they do: to help people, to serve the world by healing others. When our healthcare providers feel connected to their dharma, we experience the benefits. We feel protected, listened to, and prioritized.

Maybe mindfulness is a way to transform this floundering healthcare system of ours.

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