Dr Bonnie Clough and Dr Michael Ireland from USQ's Innovative Mental Health Solutions program.
Dr Bonnie Clough and Dr Michael Ireland from USQ's Innovative Mental Health Solutions program.

New hope to improve doctors' well-being

Training in psychological skills such as mindfulness could assist in reducing burnout and stress among doctors, according to a University of Southern Queensland research team.

The study, led by Dr Michael Ireland from USQ's Innovative Mental Health Solutions (IMHS) program, involved 44 intern doctors within an emergency department, and forms part of a large-scale program of research aimed at increasing resilience and reducing stress and burnout among medical doctors.

In the recent study, participants were randomly assigned to either an active control of one hour extra break per week or a 10-week mindfulness training intervention - a weekly one-hour training workshop that involved mindfulness education and exercises.

Mindfulness is a flexibly implemented, self-directed and non-invasive strategy aimed at increasing concentration, awareness and emotion regulation.

The results showed a significant reduction in burnout and stress for doctors in the mindfulness condition compared to participants in the control condition.

Project leader Dr Ireland said the study highlighted how important it is to create more effective intervention programs for doctors.

"Burnout is increasingly being recognised as a major issue for Australian doctors, especially new medical graduates, and has been associated with increased likelihood of self-perceived medical error, suboptimal patient care and mental health problems," Dr Ireland said. 

"There are very few interventions or strategies that target stress and burnout among doctors, which is a major concern as practitioners at the front line of patient care, such as in family medicine, general internal medicine and emergency medicine, are at a higher risk of developing stress or burnout-related symptoms."

The research team, which also includes Dr Bonnie Clough and Dr Sonja March, is now planning to trial an online version of mindfulness training with doctors within a different emergency department later this year.

Dr Clough hoped the findings would help develop a training program that is accessible to all practitioners and becomes part of general medical education.

"Implementing mindfulness training and interventions for doctors and medical students may have considerable benefits not only for medical practitioners, but also their patients and workplaces," she said.

The research team is based at USQ Springfield.