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Surgeons in training may benefit from mental visualisation

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 07 January 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:e8611
  1. Sonal Arora, clinical lecturer in surgery and patient safety, Department of Surgery and Cancer, St Mary’s Hospital, Imperial College London, London W2 1NY, UK
  1. sonal.arora06{at}

Top athletes need more than purely physical training. To be at your peak requires mastery of motor skills and mental endurance and the ability to manage distractions, the media, and the weight of public expectations. The tasks that elite athletes face are in some ways similar to those faced by clinicians performing interventional procedures, especially surgeons. They too require mastery of complex fine and gross motor skills that take long, arduous hours to perfect. Both athletes and surgeons must maintain intense mental concentration, often for long periods of time, under high pressures and in circumstances that are rarely routine. Given these similarities, what can clinicians learn from the preparation and training of athletes?

One technique that we might consider is athletes’ use of mental practice—that is, the cognitive rehearsal of a task in the absence of physical movement.1 This mental visualisation of the successful execution of the task in the mind’s …

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