OBJECTIVES: The well-being of doctors is at risk, as evidenced by high burnout rates amongst doctors around the world. Alarmingly, burned-out doctors are more likely to exhibit low levels of professionalism and provide suboptimal patient care. Research suggests that burnout and the well-being of doctors can be improved by mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs). Furthermore, MBIs may improve doctors’ performance (eg in empathy). However, there are no published systematic reviews that clarify the effects of MBIs on doctor well-being or performance to inform future research and professional development programmes. We therefore systematically reviewed and narratively synthesised findings on the impacts of MBIs on doctors’ well-being and performance.
METHODS: We searched PubMed and PsycINFO from inception to 9 May 2018 and independently reviewed studies investigating the effects of MBIs on doctor well-being or performance. We systematically extracted data and assessed study quality according to the Medical Education Research Study Quality Instrument (MERSQI), and narratively reported study findings.
RESULTS: We retrieved a total of 934 articles, of which 24 studies met our criteria; these included randomised, (un)controlled or qualitative studies of average quality. Effects varied across MBIs with different training contents or formats: MBIs including essential mindfulness training elements, or employing group-based training, mostly showed positive effects on the well-being or performance of doctors across different educational and hospital settings. Doctors perceived both benefits (enhanced self- and other-understanding) and challenges (time limitations and feasibility) associated with MBIs. Findings were subject to the methodological limitations of studies (eg the use of self-selected participants, lack of placebo interventions, use of self-reported outcomes).
CONCLUSIONS: This review indicates that doctors can perceive positive impacts of MBIs on their well-being and performance. However, the evidence was subject to methodological limitations and does not yet support the standardisation of MBIs in professional development programmes. Rather, health care organisations could consider including group-based MBIs as voluntary modules for doctors with specific well-being needs or ambitions regarding professional development.