How can ‘minimalism’ help doctors?

M3 India Newsdesk Nov 29, 2019

Wouldn’t you prefer a routine with only important and interesting things to do? But can doctors afford or even dream of such a routine? Sure, they can! Let us introduce you to ‘minimalism’ – a concept that can help you realign your routine to suit you, your interests and your passion!


Are your days always packed with appointments for consultations, surgeries, meetings, and case discussions? Do you also end up shifting a personal appointment to the next day or are compelled to deprioritising a college reunion to catch up on your sleep or do some pre-workshop study? If this happens almost every day of your life, it means you are trying to be everywhere and attempting to do a lot more than you can; you have taken on too many responsibilities or pressures on yourself. And this is true for most doctors today!

But imagine having a simpler list with only those things, which you really wish to take on, give importance to and will add value to your life! You can indeed make it happen with ‘minimalism’.

Minimalism in medicine 

Minimalism is a Zen concept of architecture, which has been extended to a way of living.

The same idea runs through science, explains Professor C Niek Van Dijk in his editorial titled " Minimalism and the art of medicine" published in BMJ.If there are two explanations for a phenomenon, he says, we instinctively favour the simplest.

‘Treat the patient, and not the X-ray or MRI’; ‘Limit yourself to what’s really needed’. To ensure this, we should ask ourselves clear and explicit questions: What does this patient need; What does he or she expect and Will my surgery achieve it to his or her satisfaction?

Professor C Niek van Dijk;Minimalism and the art of medicine. Journal of ISAKOS: Joint Disorders & Orthopaedic Sports Medicine 2017; 2:121-122.

The way we mean minimalism is: a way of thinking, through which you question things and decisions – whether or not they add value to your life. If they don’t, you don’t buy that item or consciously decide to not take on a commitment, so as to live with fewer and only important things or commitments.

Author Okten, in his paper(Turk Neurosurg. 2018;28(2):307-312) from the last year, expounds powerfully that concepts like doing with less, avoiding unnecessary materials and reducing the number of the elements in order to increase the effect in the expression which are the main elements of the minimalism in art find their equivalents in medicine and neurosurgery.

Their equivalents in medicine or neurosurgery have been to protect the physical integrity of the patient with less iatrogenic injury, minimum damage and the same therapeutic effect in the most effective way and to enable the patient to regain his health in the shortest span of time.

He further goes on to state that minimalism is not only about using minimal equipment or devices. but it is as much  primarily to do with less, to start the journey with the limited means owned and to try to constitute the work within this frame.When it is regarded from this point of view, author Okten regards Hippocrates to be the first minimalist physician in the history, who diagnosed a liver abscess using minimum tools and technology approximately 2500 years ago.


Minimalist lifestyle for a doctor

Minimalism does not mean you go all 'Mary Kondo' with your life’s possessions but yes, you declutter or minimise that aspect of your life, which seems overwhelming to you.

It could be your schedule or anything else, where you may have an overload. It could be too many books in your personal library, too many and frequent invitations from the people in your circle, a side hustle, the apps on your phone and even non-personal relationships. You can apply the concept to anything in life, at any stage in life.

With such a decluttering exercise, you can retain life’s important aspects and once you have what you really need, you start giving due importance to valuable items, healthy relationships, and venture or work that really matters.

The benefits:

  • You have lesser distractions – no unwanted meetings, no unnecessary notifications, and fewer unplanned events
  • You focus your energies towards only important things like your job, research, family, your health and even your hobby
  • It helps you divide your time fairly between all that you want to do in a day’s or a year’s time
  • Whatever you choose to retain for yourself enhances the quality of your life, be it for your career, your social life or even the extra-curricular activities you wished to engage in
  • You start living fully
  • You can reorient yourself towards personal and professional growth and happiness
  • You will have less or no days of feeling over-worked
  • You will have clarity about what you really want and perhaps, will even identify your purpose
  • You will be able to give 100% to everything that you do

Steps towards minimalism

Here we have listed examples of areas, which are most relatable to doctors. You can practice minimalism for any or all of the following:

  1. Minimise the time spent on unnecessary commitments

Practice minimalism for commitments. Once you refuse tasks or commitments that don’t interest you or don’t add any value to your life, you will have far lesser stress that comes with the commitments you didn’t want in the first place.

Not a social person? Say no to that party. Prefer time with your family? Say no to that impromptu plan to go out with colleagues. This way you can free up a lot of your time. Of course, you may have to give in to some social requests sometimes but comparatively, it will be less frequent than what you otherwise end up agreeing to.

With minimal things on your calendar, you won’t need to rush through tasks you like and you will give time and attention to everything you do.

  1. Minimise or limit your life’s priorities to about five

If you have your priorities clear, it will be easier for you to say no to tasks or commitments that will come in the way. However, it is also important to limit the number of priorities, so that you don’t feel the need to be everywhere. Your priorities could be your duty, fitness, research, family, travel, social work and just about anything.

If you can rank your priorities, even better! That will help you choose tasks or events or commitments with utmost clarity and without any guilt. Once the people in your family, staff and your circle become aware of your priorities, they too will start respecting it and allow you the time and space you need.

  1. Minimise your social media or Internet time

Digital detox is essential but difficult in today’s time. However, you may choose to limit your screen time; that is also practising minimalism.

The time we all spend on social media or shopping sites is considerable. To minimise your social media or Internet time, first know that it is a time-consuming activity, which we all use as an escape from our present or reality. You may either make a note of the time you have spent on an app and mindfully reduce your app time or discipline yourself to use social media or shopping apps only for limited times and minutes in a day.

By applying minimalism to screen time, you start noticing other means to make the best of your time or even be able to spend your time productively and with better concentration.

  1. Minimise purchases to overcome choice or decision-fatigue

You want to leave home and get to the clinic on time. But then you have to choose a shirt and a pair of trousers from the large wardrobe that you own and then find matching shoes and accessories. Not that it takes too long, however, imagine the unnecessary stress you experience if somehow, one of the clothing items you need is not ironed and you may have to either wait to get it ironed or may have to change the outfit!

Variety leads to, what most millennials suffer from, choice fatigue. If you minimise on your items or buy only as much as you will definitely need or consume, you also save time in taking decisions, have lesser irritation and stress, and also save money on maintenance and space.

  1. Minimise the amount of time you sit or stand

If your work requires you to sit all-day-long, start moving a little, every thirty minutes or so, and if you tend to stand or walk a lot, then give your feet some rest every hour. By doing so, you will prevent any problems that can have a long-lasting effect on your body. Also, you will be able to accomplish more with a few breaks and a fresher mind.


The best part about practising minimalism is that you can scale it to the extent you like. You set the benchmarks for yourself and you make your life meaningful again. Use it as a tool and it will empower you.

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