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Humans are driven by emotions. They influence nearly every decision we make. But does a surgeon feel guilt when they cut into a live human body? Does an oncologist feel shame when prescribing a drug with horrendous side effects?

The science behind those questions was addressed by Dr Lynne Reeder, founder of Australia21’s Mindful Futures Network, in an innovative symposium about the role of mindfulness in medicine. The discussion at Melbourne University’s MD Student Conference called on the audience to appreciate the links between emotions and decision making as they transitioned to careers as clinicians.

Drawing upon new neuroscientific research, combined with expert clinical experience, Lynne and her guests explored the complex role of compassion and empathy in medicine, and showed participants how to decrease the risks of negative emotion-driven decision-making.

Lynne was joined by:

Elizabeth Rider, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, who teaches and consults internationally on relationship-centred care, communication skills, professionalism, reflective practice, narrative, and healthcare education program development.

Matthew Hadfield, specialist vascular surgeon, who is Director of Surgery at Ballarat Health Services and a member of the Court of Examiners of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. Matthew addressed surgical compassion, looking at the barriers and enablers.

Jamie Bristow, who is Director of The Mindfulness Initiative, the world’s first policy institute about mindfulness. Jamie told the group that mindfulness based cognitive therapy has been available on the UK National Health Service since 2004 and is a mandated priority treatment to help people stay well after they’ve been depressed three times or more. There is also good evidence to recommend mindfulness training for the treatment of other common disorders including anxiety and some long term physical health conditions such as pain, living with cancer, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Jamie joined the symposium via video. Click below to view his presentation:

You can read more about the speakers at the bottom of this page and see photos from the symposium on our Facebook page:

Mapping mindfulness, empathy & compassion

Australia21’s Mindful Futures Network is mapping the benefits of mindfulness, empathy and compassion in public and private organisations. It’s an important part of our work researching and promoting sound decision making that leads to fair, sustainable and inclusive public policy.

Right now, we’re also:

Australia21 doesn’t receive any large government or corporate funding and we’re not allied to any political party. We rely primarily on donations and philanthropic grants to do our work, so we make sure a little goes a very long way. With the equivalent of just one funded full-time position, and the expertise of a hands-on volunteer Board, we mobilise around 2600 hours of pro bono work each year including contributions from hundreds of external experts and policy-makers from around the country.

In 2018-19 we’re aiming to build on our research and initiatives in drug harm reduction, PTSD, inequality, the future of work and the Mindful Futures Network; we’re also planning a renewed focus on environmental issues and other risks to human survival. You can help Australia21 shape a better future by clicking on the link:


Donations of $2 or more are tax deductible and all contributions, large or small, will be put to very effective use.

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More information about the MD Student Conference symposium

Dr Lynne Reeder is a Director of the public good think tank Australia21. In that role she founded the Mindful Futures Network – which is mapping where mindfulness, empathy and compassion are being applied in organisations across Australia. She is a member of Australia21’s Research Committee, having previously worked at the University of Melbourne and ANU in both academic and knowledge transfer roles. Lynne is an Adjunct Research Fellow at Federation University Australia where she researches the application of cognitive empathy and compassion motivation. She completed a recent research study which examined the role of empathy conversations as a policy tool and presented the findings at the 3rd Global Empathy conference at the University of Oxford, UK. Dr Reeder completed her PhD at Monash University on the international relations theory of interdependence.

Elizabeth Rider, MSW, MD, a pediatrician and medical educator, teaches and consults internationally on relationship-centered care, communication skills, professionalism, reflective practice, narrative, and healthcare education program development. An Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Rider has been an invited speaker in the US, Canada, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Australia, and Taiwan, where she was invited by Taiwan’s Education Ministry to teach leaders from Taiwan’s 11 medical school about teaching, assessing, and integrating communication and relational skills into medical education curricula. As Director of Academic Programs at the Institute for Professionalism and Ethical Practice, Boston Children’s Hospital/ Harvard Medical School, Dr. Rider creates and directs courses to enhance relational and communication skills and compassion for healthcare leaders, faculty, trainees, and clinicians. She also founded and directs Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School’s first Faculty Education Fellowship in Medical Humanism and Professionalism. Dr. Rider has received many teaching awards including the Morgan–Zinsser Fellow in Medical Education Award, Harvard Medical School, the Medical Educator Award for Innovative Scholarship in Medical Education, The Academy at Boston Children’s Hospital, and others.

Matthew Hadfield graduated from the Universities of St Andrews and Manchester in the UK. He undertook his postgraduate surgical training in the Yorkshire and North-Western training schemes in the UK before taking up a position as consultant Vascular and General Surgeon at Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, the largest trust in the UK at the time. As well as a busy practice in vascular surgery there he was clinical director of surgery and oversaw the introduction of both endoluminal repair of aortic aneurysms (EVAR) and Endovenous Laser Therapy for varicose veins – also having a role as trainer/proctor for EVLT in both Europe and the Middle East. Mr Hadfield relocated to Australia in 2012 to take up the vacant Director of Surgery post at Ballarat Health Services and a position there as specialist vascular surgeon. He is an elected member of the Victorian State Committee of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and remains a member of the Court of Examiners of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. He is also Deputy Chair of the Victorian Clinical Council. Mr Hadfield is on Twitter @matthadf

Jamie Bristow is director of The Mindfulness Initiative, the world’s first policy institute about mindfulness, which grew out of a programme of mindfulness teaching in the British Parliament. The Mindfulness Initiative provides the secretariat to the UK Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group and helped politicians to publish the seminal Mindful Nation UK policy report. Jamie now works with politicians around the world to help them make capacities of heart and mind serious considerations of public policy and advises institutions seeking to implement or develop mindfulness training programmes. Jamie Bristow is on Twitter @JamieBristow

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