The Impact of a Program in Mindful Communication on Primary Care Physicians

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Abstract

Purpose

In addition to structural transformations, deeper changes are needed to enhance physicians’ sense of meaning and satisfaction with their work and their ability to respond creatively to a dynamically changing practice environment. The purpose of this research was to understand what aspects of a successful continuing education program in mindful communication contributed to physicians’ well-being and the care they provide.

Method

In 2008, the authors conducted in-depth, semistructured interviews with primary care physicians who had recently completed a 52-hour mindful communication program demonstrated to reduce psychological distress and burnout while improving empathy. Interviews with a random sample of 20 of the 46 physicians in the Rochester, New York, area who attended at least four of eight weekly sessions and four of eight monthly sessions were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed qualitatively. The authors identified salient themes from the interviews.

Results

Participants reported three main themes: (1) sharing personal experiences from medical practice with colleagues reduced professional isolation, (2) mindfulness skills improved the participants’ ability to be attentive and listen deeply to patients’ concerns, respond to patients more effectively, and develop adaptive reserve, and (3) developing greater self-awareness was positive and transformative, yet participants struggled to give themselves permission to attend to their own personal growth.

Conclusions

Interventions to improve the quality of primary care practice and practitioner well-being should promote a sense of community, specific mindfulness skills, and permission and time devoted to personal growth.

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