Mindfulness And Non-Physician Healthcare Administrators

by | Apr 4, 2019 | Physician Mindfulness

In case this is your first read in the series, this 12-part series is a mini-crash course in mindfulness. In this post, we will be looking at the impact in a lack on mindfulness in non-physician healthcare administrators.

Maybe you’ve tried it in the past. Maybe the term itself gets on your nerves. If that’s the case, I hope you’ll take a deep breath, and let those worries go. I’ve gathered 12 real-life physician stories about common issues that contribute to stress, anxiety, frustration, anger, overwork, and overwhelm, and I’ve broken them down with real practices that cost you nothing but a little time and attention. These can help you find more ease and joy in your work, so you can get back to the reason you’re doing what you do.

Read on for this installment of Demystifying Mindfulness, and check out the other posts in the series for more questions and answers. From one physician to another.

TODAY’S TOPIC: Mindfulness And Non-Physician Healthcare Administrators | A 12-Part Mindfulness In Medicine Series

Our physician, Dr. C, is an internist in the northwest.

I don’t know how to work with my administrator. She’s not a physician but she acts like she knows everything about how medicine should be practiced. She is now the one who decides how long my visits will be, which exam rooms I can and cannot use, and whether we’ll have Purell in the rooms. She’s always criticizing me for something, whether it’s running 15 minutes late or being behind on my charts. She never has anything nice to say to me. When I see her I don’t even bother making eye contact. Why should I? She’s made my life miserable, so why should I even give her the time of day? I’ve always loved being with my patients, but now I can’t stand my job and dread going into work each and every day. What can I do?”

Many physicians are struggling in just the way you are, and I appreciate your honesty in coming forth. Nonphysician administrators are now commonplace in most healthcare systems. And, like it or not, it seems they’re here to stay. There are a couple of very practical opportunities to utilize mindfulness here.

Physician burnout and the cause of suffering

The first is separating what we might call pain from suffering. Let me explain what I mean. You’re experiencing the very real pain of having someone who knows much less about the practice of medicine now dictating how your practice is going to run. There’s no question that a situation like this is not easy. The key factor here, though, is your degree of suffering—in other words, your response to this painful stimulus. It sounds like you’re experiencing a lot of suffering around this. Is it possible that your reaction to this administrator may actually be contributing to your dissatisfaction and unhappiness at work?

Physician burnout and control

You mentioned a few of your current responses: dreading going into work every day; not making eye contact with the administrator; and no longer enjoying the time you have with your patients. While it may seem like you have no control over your response, I’d like to question that premise. However difficult it is to work with this person, my concern is your mental and physical well-being. I wonder if you can imagine other ways you might respond so that you’re not trapped in this cycle of insult upon injury. More on this shortly.

Physician burnout and reducing suffering

The second opportunity is gaining clarity about what parts of this situation you do and do not have control over. I may be wrong here, but it seems unlikely that you have control over whether this administrator, or administrators like her, remain in your practice. Mindfulness helps us identify when the only part we can control is how we respond to the situation—in your case, to what the administrator says and does. From what you’re describing, my sense is that you’re expending a lot of mental energy in your thought processes around the administrator. Cycles of rumination like these can leave us depleted, frustrated, and deeply unhappy. So how can you manage this difficult situation?

Practical steps to coping with non-physician healthcare administrators

Here are some practical suggestions for reducing your suffering and unhappiness, and experiencing more of a sense of freedom and contentment in your work.

  1. Pay attention to your own reactions. Take a moment to tune in and notice the physical signs that herald your cycle of reactivity, like shoulder tension or a racing heart. As I’ve discussed in past posts, getting to know your own patterns is always the first step. After all, we have to diagnose before we can treat.

  2. Next, think about what would change if you didn’t react this way to the administrator. Same administrator, but different reaction to her. This will help you gain clarity about the cost to you of the status quo, and the benefit to you of changing the elements you have control over. This will be key to finding a way forward. I recommend you spend some time journaling about this.

  3. On a daily basis, as soon as you notice the physical signs, practice these three steps:

    1) Remind yourself that this is difficult and that you’re working very hard to manage the real pain and stress of dealing with the lack of mindfulness in non-physician healthcare administrators. Give yourself credit for your effort.

    2) Challenge yourself to do one thing differently in your responses to her. This could involve smiling at her or even simply making eye contact when you pass her in the hall. Sometimes making one small change sets the stage for a completely new dynamic.

    3) Be open to seeing what happens next.

These steps will take work, but it’s truly the way to regain the satisfaction you deserve in your practice, and reclaim joy in your work again.

  1. Embrace uncertainty

When you stop and think about it, uncertainty and change are the only things that are certain. Impermanence is one of the basic laws of our world.

After all, everything changes. Our relationships change. Our kids grow up and change. Our bodies age and change. Our environments change. Our planet changes.

All too often, however, we forget this basic truth. We somehow expect things to be predictable and stable.

The problem is that this expectation sets us up for difficulty. It leaves us struggling unnecessarily when something shifts. It adds a layer of suffering above and beyond that caused by all the VUCA around us.

What I’m getting at is that we have a choice. We can meet uncertainty with reactivity or we can meet it with mindful understanding.

More than meditating on a remote mountainside, mindfulness helps us have the calm, steadiness, and clarity we need to work constructively with all the change and uncertainty.

At the same time, while we can find ourselves resisting change, we can remind ourselves that it does not have to mean something bad! Just take a moment right now to think of all the difficulties you have faced in your life and work that are now resolved and far behind you. This can help you see how change has actually been quite the positive.

  1. Respond to complexity with compassion

Even knowing that change is the only thing that is certain, it can still be difficult to weather. Living in such a VUCA time is difficult. You deserve compassion for managing all the challenges.

With mindful awareness, we can bring ourselves compassion for what we’re going through. There is increasing evidence that self-compassion is a powerful antidote to stress and even burnout. From where I sit, I think that it is actually one of the most powerful medicinals available to us.

  1. Take purposeful pauses

With mindfulness, we are aware of what is going on within and around us. We tune in and pay attention to our experience. We learn to utilize our breath to take us out of the fears, worries, stories, and preoccupations our minds are so good at generating about what might come next, and bring us back to the present moment. Here in the present, we leave that overly activated limbic state and can experience a sense of calm.

A pause also serves to allow our prefrontal cortex to come online. It creates a critically important space between our emotional response and conscious, intentional action.

Once we have paused, we can then see more clearly that fear had taken hold. 

With a pause, we become the witness of our experience as opposed to the one trapped by it.

  1. View VUCA as opportunity

I don’t know about you, but I can find myself reacting to the VUCA environment with something of a fixed mindset. With a fixed mindset, I am telling myself things like ‘it shouldn’t be this way’ and ‘why is this happening?’

When I can utilize mindful awareness, I can see that I’ve boxed myself in with a fixed mindset. I can challenge myself to grow. By grow, I mean challenging myself to see whatever difficulty I’m experiencing as an opportunity to learn.

Here again, mindfulness again throws us a lifeline. Mindful awareness involves leaning into curiosity.

I can flip the script and ask myself:

What can I learn from this experience?

How can I use this to be a better version of myself?

How can I help others cope in this VUCA environment?

What do I want to look back and see about how I acted?

In summary, while VUCA is definitely the order of the day in healthcare and beyond, you don’t have to succumb. You don’t have to live in fear. There are constructive actions you can take to help you cope with uncertainty, build calm in chaos, and even thrive in chaos and VUCA. While we can’t control much that is contributing to the VUCA time, with mindfulness we can control how we respond to it.

I hope you’ll try out these 4 mindfulness strategies as I have seen them help countless people. I’d love to hear how it goes.


To learn more about how mindfulness coaching can help you cope with this VUCA time, please reach out for a complimentary consult.

6 Free Resources To Help You During COVID19 And Beyond.

  1. 14-day meditation series 
  2. Imposter No More PDF
  3. Resilience Book Chapter
  4. Leading In Crisis PDF
  5. Balance To Burnout PDF
  6. 30-minute consult

Take advantage of one or more of these valuable resources created for clinicians and non-clinicians.