ABOUT STEPHEN LIBEN, MD
Canadian Virtual Hospice
Born and raised in Montreal, I graduated from McGill medical school in 1987 and completed a residency in pediatrics and subspecialty fellowship in pediatric critical care at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. I then became the medical director of the pediatric palliative care program in 1995, helping to develop the emerging new field with publications such as the Oxford Textbook of Palliative Care for Children, and bringing the program to its current form as the Pediatric Advanced Care Team (PACT/Palliative Care). A full professor of Pediatrics at McGill University I am also a faculty member of McGill Programs in Whole Person Care.
In my daily work as a physician, faced with the suffering of seriously ill children and their families, and coupled to my dissatisfaction with my own reactivity both at work and at home I took a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course in 2006. In the beginning I could not tolerate even more than a few minutes of sitting meditation without being overcome by a need to move or get up. I doubted the usefulness of the course, and yet while I could not articulate it at the time, I could feel there was movement in the right direction. I subsequently went on several meditation retreats each year and continue to this day with a daily brief and simple practice.
Seeing is believing (if not always, then at least sometimes!). I could see positive changes in both my personal and professional life that were slowly but steadily accruing with regular mindfulness practice and learning to be more responsive and less reactive (one “outcome” of being more mindful more often). Bringing mindful attention to my work was helpful not only in patient-doctor interactions but also in relationships with colleagues, friends and family.
I was becoming a better doctor by becoming a better listener, and therefore better at diagnosing disease and treating illness. A welcome side-effect was also my feeling more connected and happier at work. I could see that being a more mindful doctor/clinician was not just “nice” for myself and my patients, it was a core skill that could be learned.
I had been taught many helpful clinical skills in medical school, but what was missing was education on how to understand and manage my attention and emotions that were being brought up in daily work. I realized that what was needed was learning the kind of mindful-attention-based clinical skills I had only happened upon by chance within my first MBSR course. In order to fill this gap, in 2015 Tom Hutchinson and I created a Mindful Medical Practice Course (MMP) – a non-elective 7-week course for medical students at McGill University. Our book, MD Aware, is a step by step guide on how to teach MMP core clinical skills such as deep listening, communication in difficult situations, being with suffering, resilience building, and managing powerful emotions.