Karen Lawson is assistant professor in the department of family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota.
In an article entitled ‘Demystifying Mindfulness‘, she examines the use of Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) to improve the both the quality of care delivered by health-care professionals and the quality of life they experience.
MBSR is a dedicated program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, M.D. in 1979. ItÂ teaches patients, doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals a set of tools and techniques in meditation, body awareness, and Hatha yoga that enable them to manage (with a little more ease)Â the unique challenges they each face within the health system.
There is abundant evidence that workplace stress can significantly and negatively affect physicians and other health care providers, leading to depression, compassion fatigue, diminished job satisfaction, and professional burnout.Logically, physicians should â€œpay attentionâ€ in clinical settings and during patient care; yet studies show individuals commonly demonstrate only brief and unpredictable attention. Thus, â€œmindlessnessâ€ has become a pervasive cognitive phenomenon in modern life, often occurring unintentionally for a substantial portion of the day and often leading to failures in task performance. Such failures can affect physiciansâ€™ relationships with their patients and even lead to life-threatening errors in judgment. In the future, mindfulness may be the link between relationship-centered care and evidence-based clinical practice.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction has the potential to improve physiciansâ€™ health, well-being, and job satisfaction, as well as their effectiveness and safety on the job. Studies of medical, nursing, and dental students, medical residents, and practicing health care professionals, including doctors, have shown that MBSR can reduce depression and anxiety and increase empathy; decrease burnout by combating emotional exhaustion and depersonalization; and increase quality of life by reducing stress and increasing compassion for oneself.
Although extensive efforts have been directed toward helping impaired or burned-out physicians, little emphasis has been placed on enhancing the well-being, health, and happiness of the professionals who should be modeling such a way of life for their patients….Most physicians go into medicine to be of service, to help individuals and families deal with the challenges of illness and trauma. Yet, after years of practice in a difficult and continually changing environment, many of us find ourselves struggling with fatigue, a sense of futility, frustration with forms and computers, inability to keep up with the rapid flow of new information, and the demands of our own lives. There may be little we can do to quickly change the external factors in our lives and practices. But we can change our internal responses to these challenges. Mindful presence invites us back into each moment as it happens, helping us compassionately set priorities, recognize our limits, and rediscover the meaning in our work.
::Â Karen Lawson, M.D. ::
If this sort of thing resonates with your own experience at all, you might like to explore this list of stories I have written on mindfulness and meditation within the health-care setting: