How Doctors Can Be More Present

Woman thinkingA day in the life of a doctor can often be a hectic jumble of patients’ needs, administrative responsibilities, and personal demands. Whether you are currently working at a permanent position or at a locum tenens job, you likely have an array of daily commitments continually competing for your time and attention.

Operating under such strenuous conditions on a regular basis can be a detriment to both you and your patients. No one gets the benefit of your full attention — not your patients, not your support staff, not your friends and family, and certainly not yourself.

Fortunately, there are simple strategies you can use to help concentrate on work when you’re at work and home when you’re at home.

Adopt a mindful attitude

It makes sense that being mindful — staying focused on the task in front of you — can keep you calmer and more efficient in any situation. But pushing other distractions from your mind is often easier said than done. When you’re struggling to tune in, sometimes a few deep breaths are enough to quickly and quietly reboot yourself. Paying attention the rhythm of your breathing in and out also has a naturally calming effect.

You can also benefit by simply slowing down. This may seem counterproductive when you are faced with an endless list of tasks to complete before the day ends. But when you are being pulled in several directions at once, it takes longer to get anywhere.

Pull back and really engage in what you’re doing, whether you are in your office or your living room. Take your time and be aware of your actions, even if they seem trivial. Noting small details can help keep you in the moment.

Also, stop and pause between patients at work, or between activities at home. Short breaks between tasks help the mind recharge and refocus. Sitting quietly, resting your eyes and centering your thoughts can help you separate the last thing you did from the next thing you have to do.

Sit up straight, place your hands on your knees, and release the tension from your body. Take a quick stretch and move on to the task at hand.

Practice mindful communication

If the task at hand involves another person, the most important part of being present is to be invested in the conversation. And you can’t be fully invested while glancing at your smartphone, watch, tablet, or any other distracting device.

So consider dedicating a drawer — both at the office and at home — to store electronics when you need stay focused. Then embrace the idea of “out of sight, out of mind.” This point is eloquently illustrated in Gary Turks’s short video, “Look Up.”

Once all distractions are put away, take a few moments to center yourself. When you are fully present and actively listening during a conversation, it’s much easier to stay in the moment. Avoid just nodding and following along, and instead ask questions.

Restate what you’ve heard to make sure you understand it clearly, and share observations about what the other person said. For instance, you might say, “You seem worried about that.”

Staying present may not come naturally at first, but the more you practice these techniques, the easier they will become. Using mindfulness to remain present in the moment is a gift you give to your patients, your family, and yourself.

About the author


Lisa Daggett

Lisa Daggett is well-versed on the topic of locum tenens staffing and was a regular contributor to LocumLife, Healthcare Traveler, and Travel Nurse magazines. She served as associate editor of RN Magazine and as an editorial assistant for Business & Health.

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