Canadian Medical Association

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new wellness challenges to the medical profession, while further intensifying many of the individual, cultural and systemic issues that already existed. Physicians and medical learners are taught to put the needs of others ahead of their own – often to the detriment of their own well-being. Self-compassion can play a vital role in supporting physician wellness and overall work satisfaction. 

What is self-compassion? 

According to Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion is simply compassion directed inwards; it involves being touched by and open to one’s own suffering, rather than avoiding or disconnecting from it. It’s about offering nonjudgmental understanding to your own pain, inadequacies and failures, tying them to the larger human experience.

A survey conducted among Canadian physicians showed that self-compassion is associated with positive work engagement. Physicians who were more self-compassionate felt less exhausted because of work demands and, in turn, were more satisfied with their professional life than physicians who exhibit less self-compassion. In addition, a study recommended self-compassion training as a means of decreasing perceived stress and burnout while increasing empathy for patients.

How can you practice self-compassion? 

The Canadian Society of Physician Leaders has identified a set of self-compassion practices, based on the work of Dr. Kristin Neff: 

  • Self-kindness: Extend the same support and encouragement to yourself that you would to others — understand and embrace your failures instead of condemning them. 
  • Common humanity: Connecting to common humanity means understanding that pain and failure are part of the shared human experience; normalizing this makes us feel more connected to others. 
  • Mindfulness: Be aware of moment-to-moment experiences in a clear and balanced manner. When stressed, do not get caught up in solely focusing on problem solving. Allow yourself to acknowledge the struggle and suffering — this may help you to adopt a more constructive and objective perspective on the issue at hand. 

Dr. Neff offers self-compassion guided practices and exercises through her website.

Enhancing your compassion for others often begins with showing self- compassion. Physicians who embrace this concept will help contribute to a healthier medical culture. 


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