Well-Being Ambassador Story: Dr. Karen Behling

Dr. Karen Behling, Practice Medical Director at Duke Primary Care Mebane, supports her and her team’s well-being through a variety of simple but effective strategies.


Why Well-Being?

As a busy clinician and mother of two children, Dr. Behling began to realize that she was suffering from burnout. In an effort to regain work/life balance and find renewed joy in her profession, Dr. Behling enrolled in a well-being course for physicians.

Being a healthcare worker has unique well-being challenges. “We are the ‘light workers’”, Behling says. To be a source of support, comfort, and care for patients, healthcare workers need to be especially conscious of building a strong foundation of well-being within themselves.

Personal Strategies

Dr. Behling likes to use a combination of physical and mental health strategies to bolster her own well-being. One of her go-to tools is Headspace, a meditation app that is currently offering a free premium subscription to healthcare workers through the end of 2020. “I’ve never meditated before, but I’ve found this app to be very accessible. I especially like the tools they have for dealing with insomnia.”

Her other recharging tactic? Yoga. Not only does the centuries-old tradition focus on rhythmic breathing and mindfulness, but it is also an excellent way to increase flexibility and address strength asymmetries in the body.

The Squeegee Breath

Duke Primary Care Mebane is one of the few practices at Duke Health that uses scribes to help document patient concerns, symptoms, and treatments. An integral part of the Mebane team, the scribes also tend to carry a heavy emotional burden. “They are asked to quietly absorb and document all the concerns of the patients they meet throughout the day,” Behling says. “I look for ways to add a little laughter to their mornings.”

Dr. Behling is a big proponent of the “Squeegee Breath”: a deep inhale, followed by a slow exhale through loosely parted lips. The exhale can sound silly as the air rushes over fluttering lips, and that’s the point. “It makes you laugh, and at the same time it lowers your pulse and blood pressure,” Behling says. After the exhale, she encourages everyone to “push it away”. This act of removing the stress from the local airspace again helps both mentally and physically; team members get to figuratively eliminate negativity while releasing tension in their shoulders.

Dr. Behling’s 3 Takeaways

  1. Don’t get bogged down in finding a solution to well-being
    There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and even the strategies that work for one person can shift over time. If you’re a team lead, offer diverse well-being tactics and regularly refresh and tailor the available resources.
  2. Have more celebrations
    Celebrate the little things and express gratitude. One of Dr. Behling’s favorite well-being activities was an international potluck with the team. Everyone shared good food, celebrated each other’s cultures, and learned a new recipe or two.
  3. Target the Whole Self
    Integrate wellness and well-being strategies that positively impact multiple facets of health (physical, mental/emotional, social, etc.). It’s all interconnected!


Dr. Behling started her well-being journey by attending an external class called the The Happy MD. The Duke Center for Healthcare Safety and Quality also offers free resilience tools, webinars, and how-tos on its website. Finally, Behling also recommends Conversations with Colleagues, which is led by a trained Duke facilitator and offers the chance for peers to come together and support each other. “Conversations with Colleagues was a great way to build camaraderie and a sense of ‘we’re in this together’, which is so important.”