A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggests a different paradigm for fighting physician burnout may be effective – external coaching for doctors. It’s well known that healthcare professionals are twice as likely to experience the symptoms of burnout than other professionals. They experience increased risk of suicide along with alcoholism and substance abuse. This comes at a huge personal cost with the associated impact on relationships and family life. Stress and burnout also compromise our quality of care, leads to increased error rate and places patients at risk. Resilience for doctors is crucial – here’s why coaching for doctors reduces burnout.
The World Health Organization defines burnout as “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy,”creating problems for both physicians and their patients. The study, led by Liselotte Dyrbye, M.D. and Colin West, M.D., Ph.D., investigates how external professional coaching placing an emphasis on
- personal values
- professional goal setting
- work choices
- professional relationships
- influencing change at work
Why resilience coaching for doctors reduces burnout
This study was the first to specifically explore the effects of coaching on physician stress and burnout. The researchers stated:
“Helping physicians navigate career decisions and manage the stress of their job is crucial,” says Dr. Dyrbye. “While many of these doctors have a good informal support system, professional coaches can address a variety of topics and needs, and provide a safe setting to admit perceived vulnerabilities and uncertainties. We really think it can improve physicians’ ability to manage their careers and change the detrimental aspects of their work environments, so that ultimately they can do their job well without feeling overwhelmed.”
Over 88 physicians completed several self-assessment questionnaires, examining burnout, quality of life, resilience, and job satisfaction. The doctors then completed 6 sessions with a non-physician professional coach, working with each of the doctors on issues of their choice. After completing six sessions of coaching for doctors, the physicians filled out the same questionnaires to follow their progress.
Is resilience coaching for physicians a magic bullet?
Results were promising for tackling burnout and stress in healthcare. The coached doctors reported less burnout and an increase life quality post coaching for doctors, as compared to before. The researchers also administered the same tests on physicians who did not receive professional coaching for doctors. The doctors who had not been coached reported increased emotional exhaustion and a lower quality of life, illustrating that doctor burnout symptoms can worsen if left unaddressed.
Whilst the research results were positive, we need to see more research into the efficacy of professional coaching for doctors combined with other programs, such as resilience for doctors. The results suggest that the impact of coaching for doctors may be added to the existing list of evidence-based tools to support physician wellbeing and, their patients. Is resilience coaching for doctors a magic bullet? Unfortunately not. Resilience coaching for doctors should be offered in tandem with organisational efforts to improve the practice environment, addressing systemic drivers of burnout in physicians.
The Resilient Doctor provides coaching for doctors and healthcare professionals along with resilience training for physicians, nurses and allied healthcare professionals Contact us to find out more, we’d love to hear from you