Focus On: Physician Burnout

Focus On: Physician Burnout

August 05, 2019
2 min read

Professional coaching intervention may reduce physician burnout

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Professional coaching sessions reduced burnout and improved quality of life for practicing physicians, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Coaching is distinct from mentorship and peer support and involves inquiry, encouragement, and accountability to increase self-awareness, motivation, and the capacity to take effective action,” Liselotte N. Dyrbye, MD, MHPE, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and colleagues wrote. “Coaches do not need to be physicians or directly involved in health care. Professional coaching can be tailored to focus on the aspects desired by recipients and can assist individuals in their effort to navigate their professional life, their choices, and the direction of their career. We hypothesized that professional coaching would result in measurable improvements in well-being, job satisfaction, resilience, and fulfillment in physicians and measurable reductions in burnout.”

Researchers conducted a pilot randomized clinical trial of 88 physicians in the departments of medicine, family medicine and pediatrics at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Florida and Arizona.

Participants were randomly assigned to either the intervention group or control group. Those in the intervention received an initial 1-hour professional coaching session and five subsequent 30-minute sessions every 2 to 3 weeks for 5 months (total of 3.5 coaching hours costing approximately $1,400 per physician). The coaching sessions, which were performed over the telephone, focused on setting goals, creating action plans and managing progress.

Researchers administered baseline and end-of-study surveys to measure burnout, quality of life, resilience, job satisfaction, engagement and meaning at work.

Researchers found that emotional exhaustion decreased by a mean of 5.2 points in the intervention group and increased by a mean of 1.5 points in the control group.

Researchers also observed that absolute rates of high emotional exhaustion decreased by 19.5% in the intervention group and increased by 9.8% in the control group.

doctor holding a patient's hands 
Professional coaching sessions reduced burnout and improved quality of life for practicing physicians.
Source: Adobe Stock

In addition, absolute rates of overall burnout decreased by 17.1% in the intervention group and increased by 4.9% in the control group.

Furthermore, researchers observed greater improvements in quality of life and resilience scores for those in the intervention group compared with the control group (mean improvement 1.2 points vs. 0.1 and 1.3 vs. 0.6, respectively).

“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,” the researchers wrote. “We did not observe statistically significant reductions in depersonalization or improvements in job satisfaction, engagement, or meaning in work, highlighting the reality that coaching, while useful, is not a replacement for organizational efforts to improve the practice environment and address the underlying drivers of burnout and dissatisfaction among physicians.” – by Melissa J. Webb

Disclosures: Dyrbye reports coinventing and receiving royalties for the Well-Being Indexes. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.