Feeling overworked, overwhelmed and undervalued has become the status quo for healthcare workers, and especially amongst junior doctors. The majority of junior doctors report feeling that their wellbeing is inadequately supported by their workplace, and overwhelm and burnout are rife in the NHS.

Waiting for mental health problems to develop before offering support is like waiting for somebody to fall off a waterfall before offering help; research has shown that preventative measures are more effective, economical, and ethical. Breathworks recently taught a Workplace Mindfulness course to a group of 20 junior doctors working in a busy teaching hospital in Liverpool, aiming to equip medics with a mindfulness practice to build up resilience mechanisms against stress.

Sessions took place once a week on a Thursday afternoon, after a busy day for the junior doctors. Breathworks Teacher Andrea Cygler led them in guided meditations, group discussions, and short teaching sessions on the theory behind mindfulness and compassion practices, as well as on pacing and self-care.

The pre and post-course questionnaires revealed significant improvements in fatigue interference, emotional distress, and feelings of social isolation. Feedback from doctors included reporting that the course made them realise it is “okay to take time out for self;” “reduced anxiety;” “increased kindness to self and others” and “encouraged me to take time out of the day and check in with my own sense of wellbeing.” Another reported “relaxing techniques at home have really helped me switch off and sleep” and one doctor stated the course had a “positive impact on my thought process.”

12 of the 14 doctors reported improvements in their interactions and relationships with patients. Some doctors reported they were “more understanding of difficult patients,” “more mindful of what they are going through,” “more patient,” and “more compassionate.” One commented that “in difficult situations I have tried to think about how the patient feels and be kinder to myself and them”. All attendees said they would recommend the course to other foundations doctors.

The results from this pilot study were presented on a poster at the International Conference on Mindfulness 2018 in Amsterdam by Chris Bu, one of the junior doctors who initially got in touch with Breathworks to try to set up such a project.

Pre-course questionnaires had revealed that doctors didn’t feel they had enough support for their wellbeing at work. Following the course, they reported lower stress levels, greater wellbeing, a better working life and an improvement in their relationships with patients. This pilot study suggests that mindfulness interventions are a promising option for combating the increasing stress in the NHS, and could have great benefits for doctors and their patients alike.