Patient Care

UR Mindfulness Expert Writes Book on Humanity in Medicine

Jan. 24, 2017

Ronald Epstein, M.D., a University of Rochester Medical Center professor of Family Medicine, Psychiatry, Oncology, and Medicine, has written the first book for the general public about mindfulness in medical practice, providing an inside look at how doctors think and illustrating his points with true stories.

Attending: Medicine, Mindfulness, and Humanity, is published by Scribner. Epstein will appear at a book-signing at 6 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 26, at the College Town Barnes & Noble, 1305 Mt Hope Ave., Rochester.

As a third-year Harvard medical student years ago, Epstein watched an experienced surgeon fail to notice that his 18-year-old patient’s kidney had turned blue. Epstein spoke up and the surgeon was able to repair the kidney as the operation was extended for an hour. In that same rotation, Epstein observed that a different surgeon was adept at shifting from autopilot to deliberate precision during an extremely complicated surgery. The difference between the two doctors left a lasting impression, he writes, and set the stage for his life’s work: to identify the qualities and habits that allow healthcare providers to be at their best.

“Mindfulness is the secret,” Epstein says. He makes a case that being attentive, curious, and open-minded is a moral choice that also greatly improves the doctor-patient experience and impacts medical outcomes. Epstein believes that anyone—doctors and nurses, as well as patients and families—can learn to listen closely, set aside judgments, and take a more compassionate and conscientious approach to medical decisions and caregiving.

“I’m hoping that people see medicine through new eyes,” Epstein says of the book. “I also hope that people realize that mindfulness is not just for doctors, it’s for anyone. Setting aside expectations, the need to interpret or give advice and just listening and really understanding one another, is something that’s valuable for everyone.”

Epstein has built a worldwide reputation for physician training. He wrote a 2002 medical education article that is among the top-five most widely cited articles in the last century. It called for revamping the definition of “professional competence” beyond knowledge of medicine and basic skills and to include reasoning, judgment, time-management, communication skills, and the way doctors cope with ambiguity. He has also written extensively about physician burnout and doctor-patient communication when the stakes are particularly high, as in cases of advanced cancer.

His mindfulness and communication research continues with support from the National Institutes of Health.

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