Developing Presence |  A Mindfulness In Medicine Series

Developing Presence | A Mindfulness In Medicine Series

The Demystifying Physician Mindfulness Series

For many of my readers, the concept of mindfulness seems out of reach. The term evokes imagery of tranquil monks and bucolic hillsides, existing miles away, both literally and metaphorically. I created this series to shorten these distances, and to introduce mindfulness to practicing physicians as an easily accessible tool to combat physician burnout.

With the goal of demystifying mindfulness, I decided to create this 12 part series. Each post examines the relationship between mindfulness and a specific area of the practicing physician’s day-to-day life. They each include a physician’s story, and how the rigors of their practice currently hamper their ability to fully live that part of their life. After detailing their situation, I provide guidance for how that physician can utilize mindfulness to gain fulfillment in that area.

With each post, I give you an actionable step that will help you integrate that post’s topic into your daily life. I’m also going to give you an exercise that you can practice in your free time that will help strengthen your resilience, calm, and fulfillment. My goal is to transform mindfulness from a daunting, unapproachable ideal into a broad toolkit that you have easy access to. Simply put, I want to help you be a happier, more productive version of yourself, in the workplace and at home.

Without further ado, here is the second installment of Demystifying Mindfulness.

Today’s Topic: Mindfulness and Being Present with Patients

Our Physician: Dr. J, an internist in outpatient practice in the northeast. Dr. J writes:

I’m finding it almost impossible to be fully present with patients. I want to be 100% focused on every patient, but my mind seems to be everywhere else. I feel like such a crappy physician…on top of being overwhelmed with the workload I can’t even empathize with the people I’m treating. What can I do to be more present and caring with each of my patients?”


Dr. J


Dear Dr. J,

I want to emphasize two things: 1. This is something that almost every practicing physician experiences. And 2. As we continue our careers, it takes mindful effort to humanize our patients and maintain presence. We are overworked, are pulled in countless directions, and often have other things on our minds, like responsibilities outside of work. It’s not easy to give 100% of yourself to the patient in front of you when all you can think about is the charts you need to finish. Not only that, but we weren’t trained to empathize with patients! We were taught to be diagnostic scientists, not present, caring doctors. Compassionately dealing with each patient you see requires intention and cultivation. Here’s what I recommend:

Set an intention. You deciding that you want to be more present with your patients is powerful. Before each day of work, decide this again! Setting an intention for your day helps you chart your course, so you avoid finding yourself at the end of the day not having acted  the way you would have liked. The goal is not to be perfect here, but to begin to shift toward your goal. Intentionality is the root of mindfulness, and this is a concept that I’ll expand upon in future installments.

Commit to cultivating empathy toward your patients, and toward yourself. When you’re with patients, and you notice your mind wandering, remind yourself that you want to be more present, and return to the human being in front of you. The more times you remind yourself to feel this way, the more empathy you’ll develop for your patients and for yourself.

Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. Forgive yourself if you aren’t as present as you’d like to be. Self-compassion is a crucial component of living mindfulness. While it may seem counter-intuitive, the kinder you are to yourself, the more likely you are to enact the changes you want to make.

Deciding that you want to be more present and caring with patients is an important first step. Implementing these mindful strategies will take you the rest of the way.

To your resilience,