The importance of self-compassion for hospitalists


Experience 4: Taking care of the caregiver

We work in the very stressful time of the COVID pandemic. As medical providers, we are caregivers to our patients and our families. Yet, we do not give ourselves time to rest, recover, and recharge. Remember, to care for others, you cannot pour from an empty cup.

  • Give yourself permission to meet your own needs, recognizing that this will not only enhance your quality of life, it will also enhance your ability to be there for those that rely on you. Our time is limited but self-care can occur both at work and outside of work.
  • When you are “off the clock,” be off the clock! Turn off notifications, don’t check email, and be present in your personal lives. If you are constantly answering patient calls or nursing questions until 10 p.m., that means your health care system is in need of an upgrade, as you need the appropriate coverage to give you time to care for yourself, just as well as you care for your patients.
  • While at work you can practice self-care. Take 2 minutes to practice relaxation breathing. Take 1 minute to show yourself or another person gratitude. Take 5 minutes before you start writing your notes for the day to listen to relaxing music or a mindful podcast. Take 3 minutes to share three good things that happened in the day with your family or colleagues. Take 5-10 minutes to do chair yoga. Take a self-compassion break.
  • Implement a 5-minute wellness break into your group’s daily function with some of the previous mentioned examples. This will allow you to care for and nurture yourself, while also caring for and nurturing others in an environment that cultivates your wellness goals.

As a hospitalist, I can attest that I did not show myself self-compassion nearly as often as I showed compassion to others. I am my own worst critic and my training taught me to suffer in silence, and not seek out others who are experiencing the same thing for fear of being perceived as weak, inadequate, or flawed.

This false notion that we need to always be tough, strong, and without emotion in order to be taken seriously, to advance, or be held in high regard is rubbish and only perpetuated by accepting it. In order to change the culture of medicine, we have to change the way we think and behave. I have practiced self-compassion exercises and it has enhanced my perspective to see that many of us are going through varying degrees of the same thing. It has shown me the positive effects on my inner being and my life. If you are ready to try something new that will benefit your psychological and emotional well-being, and help you through pain, suffering, struggles, and crisis, you have nothing to lose. Be the change, and show yourself self-compassion.

In summary, self-compassion is an attitude of warmth, curiosity, connection, and care. Learning to become more self-compassionate is a process of moving from striving to change our experience and ourselves toward embracing who we are already.9 The practice of self-compassion is giving ourselves what we need in the moment. Even if we are not ready, or it is too painful to fully accept or embrace, we can still plant the seeds that will, with time and patience, grow and bloom.

When we are mindful of our struggles, when we respond to ourselves with compassion, kindness, and give ourselves support in times of difficulty, we learn to embrace ourselves and our lives, our inner and outer imperfections, and provide ourselves with the strength needed to thrive in the most precarious and difficult situations. With self-compassion, we give the world the best of us, instead of what is left of us.

Dr. Williams is vice president of the Hampton Roads chapter of the Society of Hospital Medicine. She is a hospitalist at Sentara Careplex Hospital in Hampton, Va., where she also serves as vice president of the medical executive committee.


1. Sanchez-Reilly S et al. Caring for oneself to care for others: Physicians and their self-care. J Community Support Oncol. 2013;11(2):75-81. doi: 10.12788/j.suponc.0003.

2. Neff K. Self-Compassion: An Alternative Conceptualization of a Healthy Attitude Toward Oneself. Self Identity. 2010;2(2):85-101. doi: 10.1080/15298860309032.

3. Neff K et al. The forest and the trees: Examining the association of self-compassion and its positive and negative components with psychological functioning. Self Identity. 2018;17(6):627-45. doi: 10.1080/15298868.2018.1436587.

4. Zessin U et al. The relationship between self-compassion and well-being: A meta-analysis. Appl Psychol Health Well-Being. 2015;7(3):340-64. doi: 10.1111/aphw.12051.

5. Warren R et al. Self-criticism and self-compassion: Risk and resilience. Current Psychiatry. 2016 Dec;15(12):18-21,24-28,32.

6. Neff K. The Five Myths of Self-Compassion. Greater Good Magazine. 2015 Sep 30.

7. Neff KD and Germer CK. A pilot study and randomized controlled trial of the mindful self-compassion program. J Clin Psychol. 2013 Jan;69(1):28-44. doi: 10.1002/jclp.21923.

8. Neff K. Self-Compassion Guided Meditations and Exercises.

9. Germer C and Neff KD. Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC), in “The handbook of mindfulness-based programs.” (London: Routledge, 2019, pp. 357-67).


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