Shifting the Clinician Mindset Toward Emotional Well-Being

Female physician stethoscope child wellness
By: Jason Horay
2 Minute Read

Part II of our series on holistic physician well-being.

As the healthcare landscape grows increasingly complex and practitioners are met with new and unexpected challenges, many physicians often neglect to prioritize their emotional well-being to the detriment of both their personal mental health and patient care. Emotional well-being is the ability to understand one’s self and cope with the many challenges that life can bring. Being emotionally well is more than just handling stress, it also involves being attentive to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, both positive and negative.

Identifying “Oxygen Masks”

When flight attendants provide instructions on how to survive in disastrous situations, what do they always say about oxygen masks? “Secure your own before helping others.” While this may go against the instincts of those responsible for the care and safety of a loved one, ultimately this rule isn’t designed for self-preservation. It’s to ensure that the caretaker is safe and capable of helping those in need.

The same applies to physicians who are responsible for the care of patients.

When doctors fail to prioritize their personal well-being, everyone suffers.

What does an “oxygen mask” look like for physicians? It can be anything from going out to watch a movie or eating a nice meal, to giving yourself extra hours sleep. However, all of these self-care actions only address symptoms of the problem. In order to truly repair damaged emotional well-being, it’s important that physicians shift their mindset to better care for their mental health.

Below are some examples of actions that can help physicians enhance their emotional well-being:

  • Identify personal strengths and focus on building them further
  • Choose to recognize the positive in adverse situations; actively search for the “silver lining”
  • Build a solid social network of reliable and trustworthy individuals
  • Identify coping skills for dealing with mental health difficulties and external stressors
  • Make time for hobbies and leisure
  • Approach each day with a sense of purpose and importance in all tasks

Passion vs. Professionalism

Many doctors regularly experience an interesting paradox of passion versus professionalism in their daily interactions with patients. In order to provide high-quality care, physicians are required to show compassion and emotionally engage with their patients.

However, this expression of emotions can sometimes be perceived as unprofessional. As a result, many doctors suppress their feelings and emotional responses, resulting in damage to their own mental health. Learning how to effectively channel emotions and practice both internal and external compassion will ultimately enhance physicians’ emotional well-being.

Building Self-Compassion

Practicing mindfulness is an excellent way to promote self-compassion among physicians. According to a study among primary care physicians, mindfulness training proved to be an effective approach for improving stress resilience, self-compassion, and self-reflection. This ultimately helped individuals become more aware of their own thoughts, accept difficult situations, experience peacefulness, and have more openness to themselves and others.

Within individual practices, Schwartz Rounds, support groups, mentors, and colleagues can help to further develop a culture of mindfulness. Formal approaches, such as peer coaching, also help build self-awareness and reflection among physicians, fostering a more positive practice environment through the identification of personal strengths.

“A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats”

More research is needed to determine the long-term effectiveness of interventions to support physician wellness, but early have shown that higher levels of physician satisfaction have enhanced patient experiences and population health, reduced practice costs, and improved the work life of clinicians and staff.

By placing greater emphasis on emotional well-being, physicians can expect to see positive changes in their personal lives, work environment, and quality of patient care, allowing them to be better doctors and better individuals.

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Jason Horay
Jason Horay is Curi’s Manager of Health Strategy and Well-Being, based in Raleigh, NC.

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