The Gift of Mindful Listening: Creating Connection and Wellbeing For Healthcare Providers And Their Patients

Posted by Erin Petersen

Deaf physicians are often credited by their patients as having more apt listening skills than their hearing counterparts. Dr. Philip Zazove, Chairman of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan and a champion for deaf and hard of hearing physicians nationally says that patients frequently tell him, “I love the way you look at me and listen to me.” This is due to the fact that Dr. Zazove utilizes lip reading to help understand what his patients are telling him in the office.

One could argue, even if out of necessity, that these physicians are astute at practicing the art of ‘mindful listening’ – closely paying attention in the moment and truly hearing what another person is saying in a nonjudgmental manner. This is unquestionably a powerful bond between the healthcare provider and the patient. To be truly heard in life’s moments of great vulnerability can bring precious solace to the patient.

rabbit in fieldHave questions on how to mindfully listen? Check out this article to help get you started.

Let’s face it, there is a great deal of stimuli competing for a physician’s attention – workplace politics, the sheer volume of electronic medical record notes to be written, last minute crises that walk into your treatment rooms, the ever present metrics imposed from third parties.   If mindful listening provides a gateway to being more attentive to patients and additionally helps providers to tune out the never ending noisy demands on a physician, then tuning into the patient in front of them just might be a powerful catalyst to alleviate burnout.

Setting aside the demands, purposefully listening in a mindful way allows providers to get back to what is crucially important — bringing about healing in authentic moments of genuine relationship. This can also serve to energize healthcare providers in their work and connect them to simple human joy.  Here, in these moments, the element of mindfulness helps to slow down time and mysteriously elongate it. Who wouldn’t want to leave a medical appointment feeling like their provider had plentiful, unhurried time with them? I think both parties would be on board with that.

At surface level, this intentionality of mindful listening creates a safe opportunity for the patient to be truly known which is rather remarkable. But diving one level deeper is that this practice of mindful listening allows for the medical provider to be deeply known as well. Opportunities abound for the physician to regularly ask and self-reflect on, “Who am I as a physician when all I have to offer is the patient-doctor relationship between us to bring about healing?”

So, if you are a healthcare provider – physician, nurse, technician – set a challenge for yourself to practice the art of mindful listening with your patients this week. If all providers (not just physicians) learn to be mindful in their listening, they will be providing extraordinary care by giving the gift of their presence — expressing their true self and bearing witness to their patients.

Join the dialogue!  Whether you have already been implementing mindful listening in your practice or just starting, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how it is helping to prevent stress and burnout! Or, in what other ways have you found mindful listening to be beneficial in your practice of medicine?