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Mindfulness found to benefit trainee GPs


Jolyon Attwooll


22/06/2021 4:47:50 PM

A UK-based study has suggested that including mindfulness as part of training could help reduce burnout risk for new GPs.

Young GP meditating in the sun.
Mindfulness is one technique that could help improve GPs’ resilience in times of stress.

The research, published this month by BMC Medical Education, reported ‘statistically significant’ improvements among GP trainees who undertook a six-week mindfulness practice as part of their training.
 
The program was offered on a voluntary basis to 120 trainees in their second or third year of general practice training in Coventry and Warwickshire in England, on the proviso that at least five of the six mindful practice sessions be attended.  
 
There were 15 trainees who went to the requisite number, a take-up rate of 12.5%, and the authors noted the results among trainees involved were striking.
 
‘Following the course, there were statistically significant (p < 0.05) improvements in wellbeing, resilience, mindfulness, emotional exhaustion, disengagement, and stress scores,’ they wrote.
 
‘Participants described numerous benefits, and most stated that they would recommend it to colleagues.’
 
Dr Carolyn Ee, Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Integrative Medicine, believes that featuring more self-care as part of vocational training would be a positive step.
 
She told newsGP pressures on GPs have ‘undoubtedly’ increased since the beginning of 2020, with the prolonged nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, adjusting to telehealth, the rising levels of mental health problems in the community, and problems with the vaccine rollout among the issues she says have added to the burden of stress.
 
‘I think [self-care] should absolutely be part of the curriculum, I [also] think it should be part of our CPD that we’re taking time to self-care,’ Dr Ee said.
 
‘If you’re burnt out and exhausted and disengaged, you’re probably not able to provide the level of care you would otherwise if you were functioning really well.
 
‘It would only enhance the level of care we are able to provide and, more importantly, it recognises the value of our own health.’
 
Associate Professor Vicki Kotsirilos is another proponent of the benefits of mindfulness, and says she has been using it for almost 40 years.
 
‘I used it to help me cope with the long hours during my work at the hospitals,’ she told newsGP. ‘I found mindfulness extremely helpful to cope with long shifts and the stress of working long hours and lacking sleep.’
 
Having continued the practice since starting work as a GP, Associate Professor Kotsirilos says she now finds it useful when speaking to patients.
 
‘When we experience [mindfulness] on a personal level, it’s actually very easy to talk to our patients about what it means and how to do it,’ she said.
 
However, Dr Ee also highlighted systemic pressures on doctors, saying: ‘Often we go to strategies such as mindfulness, which are incredibly important, but all the mindfulness in the world is not going to overcome the systemic issues that GPs have been facing that can lead to burnout.’
 
Authors of the UK study highlighted that GPs face a ‘high risk’ of suffering emotional stress, depression and burnout, which contribute to increasing levels of absence, as well as difficulties in retaining GPs.
 
In 2019, the World Health Organization recognised burnout as a medical condition for the first time. It was described as a syndrome resulting ‘from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’, characterised by exhaustion; mental distance from one’s job, or negativity towards it; and a sense of ineffectiveness.
 
Dr Ee said the cost of replacing a GP who leaves the profession due to burnout has been estimated at around US$250,000 (roughly AU$330,000) in the US.
 
According to the study, there is evidence mindfulness could improve doctors’ resilience, wellbeing, self-awareness and interpersonal skills, as well as patient-centred care. It also noted mindfulness-based programs are becoming more popular, but added that they require further assessment.
 
‘Including mindful practice within general practice vocational training is feasible, and in this study it benefited the psychological wellbeing of participants,’ the study concluded.
 
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