Professional Coaching Keeps Doctors in the Game


Physicians who receive professional coaching are less emotionally exhausted and less vulnerable to burnout, according to the results of a pilot study.

“This intervention adds to the growing literature of evidence-based approaches to promote physician well-being and should be considered a complementary strategy to be deployed in combination with other organizational approaches to improve system-level drivers of work-related stressors,” wrote Liselotte N. Dyrbye, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and coauthors in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Dr. Dyrbye and colleagues conducted a randomized pilot study of 88 Mayo Clinic physicians in the departments of medicine, family medicine, and pediatrics. Half (n = 44) received 3.5 hours of sessions facilitated by a professional coach. The other half (n = 44) served as controls. Participants’ well-being – in regard to burnout, quality of life, resilience, job satisfaction, engagement, and meaning at work – was surveyed at baseline and the study’s completion.

Physicians in the coaching group participated in a 1-hour initial telephone session, designed to establish a relationship between the physician and coach, as well as to assess needs, set goals, identify values, and create an action plan. During follow-up sessions, coaches would check in, help plan and set goals, and suggest strategies/changes to incorporate into daily life. Physicians were permitted to ask for support on any issue, but also were expected to see as many patients as their colleagues outside of the study.

After 6 months, physicians in the coaching group saw a significant decrease in emotional exhaustion by a mean of 5.2 points, compared with an increase of 1.5 points in the control group. At 5 months, absolute rates of high emotional exhaustion decreased by 19.5% in the coaching group and increased by 9.8% in the control group and absolute rates of overall burnout decreased by 17.1% in the coaching group and increased by 4.9% in the control group. Quality of life and resilience scores also improved, though there were no notable differences between groups in measures of job satisfaction, engagement, and meaning at work.

The authors noted their study’s limitations, which included a modest sample size and a volunteer group of participants.

In addition, the lower percentage of men in the study – 48 of 88 participants were women – may be a result of factors that deserve further investigation. Finally, burnout rates among volunteers were higher than those among other physicians, suggesting that “the study appealed to those in greatest need of the intervention.”

The study was funded by the Mayo Clinic department of medicine’s Program on Physician Well-Being and the Physician Foundation. Two of the authors – Dr. Dyrbye and Tait D. Shanafelt, MD, of Stanford (Calif.) University – reported being the coinventors of, and receiving royalties for, the Physician Well-Being Index, Medical Student Well-Being Index, Nurse Well-Being Index, and the Well-Being Index.

SOURCE: Dyrbye LN et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2019 Aug 5.
doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.2425.