Mindfulness: the secret to doctor’s wellbeing

Mindfulness involves training oneself to pay attention to the present moment without getting caught up in the past or worrying about the future, and not reacting to experiences in the internal or external environment. It’s a form of meditation, a way of living, and is increasingly being applied clinically to treat depression, anxiety and a host of other physical and mental health problems.

Dr Craig Hassed, senior lecturer in the Monash University Department of General Practice and author of Mindfulness for Life, says doctors who practice mindfulness can be more effective.

“For a doctor, to be mindful in practice means really paying attention to what you are doing and really listening to the patient, paying attention to the procedure, picking up the clinical signs and being aware of your own biases and thought processes. It makes doctors less likely to make a diagnostic error.”[1]

Mindfulness is taught to students from their first year at Monash and has been shown to significantly improve their mental health and quality of life, even during the high-stress exam semesters. Mindfulness training for physicians has been shown to reduce burnout, improve mental health and improve empathy to patients. [2] “Learning mindfulness may be the single most important skill you learn,” says Dr Hassed.

For a doctor, to be mindful in a practice means really paying attention to what you are doing and really listening to the patient.

Photo of Dr Craig Hassed
Dr Craig Hassed

Tools and resources


Daily Mindfulness

  • When you first wake up in the morning, before you get out of bed, bring your attention to your breathing. Observe five mindful breaths.
  • Notice changes in your posture. Be aware of how your body and mind feel when you move from lying down to sitting, to standing, to walking. Notice each time you make a transition from one posture to the next.
  • Whenever you hear a phone ring, a bird sing, a train pass, laughter, a car horn, the wind, the sound of a door closing – use any sound as the bell of mindfulness. Really listen and be present and awake.
  • Throughout the day, take a few moments to bring your attention to your breathing. Observe five mindful breaths.
  • Whenever you eat or drink something, take a minute and breathe. Look at your food and realize that the food was connected to something that nourished its growth. Can you see the sunlight, the rain, the earth, the farmer, the trucker in your food? Pay attention as you eat, consciously consuming this food for your physical health. Bring awareness to seeing your food, smelling your food, tasting your food, chewing your food, and swallowing your food.
  • Notice your body while you walk or stand. Take a moment to notice your posture. Pay attention to the contact of the ground under your feet. Feel the air on your face, arms, and legs as you walk. Are you rushing?
  • Bring awareness to listening and talking. Can you listen without agreeing or disagreeing, liking or disliking, or planning what you will say when it is your turn? When talking, can you just say what you need to say without overstating or understating? Can you notice how your mind and body feel?
  • Whenever you wait in a line, use this time to notice standing and breathing. Feel the contact of your feet on the floor and how your body feels. Bring attention to the rise and fall of your abdomen. Are you feeling impatient?
  • Be aware of any points of tightness in your body throughout the day. See if you can breathe into them and, as you exhale, let go of excess tension. Is there tension stored anywhere in your body? For example, your neck, shoulders, stomach, jaw, or lower back? If possible, stretch or do yoga once a day.
  • Focus attention on your daily activities such as brushing your teeth, washing up, brushing your hair, putting on your shoes, doing your job. Bring mindfulness to each activity.
  • Before you go to sleep at night, take a few minutes and bring your attention to your breathing. Observe five mindful breaths.

Source: http://www.monash.edu.au/counselling/mindfulness.html Reprinted with permission

  1. Hassed C et al. Enhancing the health of medical students: outcomes of an integrated mindfulness and lifestyle program. Advances in Health Sciences Education 2009; 14 (3): 387-398.
  2. Krasner MS et al. Association of an educational program in mindful communication with burnout, empathy, and attitudes among primary care physicians. Journal of the American Medical Association 2009; 302(12):1284-93.
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