Knowing what I know about practicing medicine, and knowing what I know about meditation and its benefits, I often ask myself, “why don’t more doctors, and other healthcare professionals, learn to meditate?” Here are 9 reasons why doctors CAN, SHOULD, (and often DON’T), meditate:
1. CAN: Doctors tend to be pretty high achieving people, with very active minds and constant thoughts. They also tend to think they are too type-A to meditate, or that they’d never be able to clear their minds. The good news? Vedic meditation doesn’t require focus, concentration, control, or clearing the mind of thoughts. It’s the one time where doctors don’t have to make any decisions or be in charge.
2. SHOULD: Doctors, and all healthcare providers, rely on intuition, also known as their clinical judgment, or spidey-sense, to determine how sick a patient is. The good ones can walk in to a room and know if a patient is unstable. Meditation helps us tap into our intuition more readily and more accurately.
3. SHOULD: Making life or death decisions, day in and day out (and some nights) is stressful. A regular meditation practice can reverse the long-lasting effects of stress chemicals (including cortisol and adrenaline) on our bodies.
4. SHOULD: Facing indecision in and of itself can also be really stressful. Facing indecision, under the pressure of knowing that if we make the wrong choice, a patient may get sicker (or we may get sued) further compounds the stress. We don’t always know the right answer. So, we do our best with the information we have, which is often much less than is needed. Meditation clears our mind of other distractions so that we can focus on the task at hand.
5. SHOULD: Doctors get yelled at all the time. A lot of people don’t realize this. (And, yes, I know doctors aren’t perfect either.) Unhappy patients, stressed by their own illness, lash out, and doctors often bear the brunt of it. Getting yelled at feels horrible, and it can really make the cortisol and adrenaline kick in. Meditation helps to mitigate the fight or flight response, and if doctors learn to meditate, they are better able to de-escalate tension and avoid a stressful reaction.
6. SHOULD: Doctors face unending numbers of seemingly irreconcilable expectations. We have to keep the length of stay down, but also must prevent re-admissions to the hospital. We can’t miss a diagnosis, but we can’t order too many tests. We get graded on our patient satisfaction scores, and our patients’ pain scale scores, but we also have to make sure we don’t improperly prescribe opiates (life-threatening side effects and concern for addiction). It’s nearly impossible to navigate. Meditation helps us keep the big picture in mind, and focus on what’s really important: providing high quality care to patients who need it.
7. SHOULD: Doctors are trained to control the situation, to fix things, and to start thinking of possible diagnoses the minute a patient begins to speak. The ability to stay in the present and truly listen to our patients is literally trained out of us. Meditation helps us regain the ability to stay present with our patients, as well as the ability to surrender our need to control everything.
8. DON’T: Doctors tend to be really bad patients. “Sure, meditation might be good for my patients who are really stressed out, but for me…?” Meditation is an equal opportunity stress-reliever and fulfillment-bringer. Meditation should be the first thing we offer to our patients, and to ourselves, not the last-resort Hail Mary attempt to alleviate stress.
9. CAN, SHOULD, and DON’T: Caring for other people requires vast amounts of compassion and empathy- for our patients and ourselves. Doctors notoriously lack self-compassion. If we lose our capacity for empathy and compassion, we lose our ability to care for ourselves and our patients. Burnout is horrible. Meditation can restore our compassion and empathy and bring the joy back to the workplace.
The science is out there. Meditation decreases stress, reprograms our brain chemistry, improves reactivity and compassion, and has countless other physical and mental health benefits. In addition to asking why more doctors don’t meditate, let’s also ask: why doesn’t everyone learn to meditate? Let’s do away with the DON’T: Anyone CAN (and SHOULD) meditate, and everyone CAN benefit.