Coaches in Medical Training Fight Burnout, Improve Results

Marcia Frellick


February 01, 2019

As medical education is being reimagined nationwide, coaching programs are becoming essential to the mix. The specifics vary by institution, but the model generally calls for a handful of students who are assigned to the same member or members of the medical faculty for their entire 4 years. The coaches, who are trained by individual schools, work with students on everything from their clinical and research skills to how to navigate an unfamiliar city or where to seek help if the going gets too rough.

Developing Self-assessment Skills

The American Medical Association (AMA) features a coaching model in its ongoing collaborations with a consortium of 32 schools to create the medical schools of the future. Susan Skochelak, MD, the AMA's vice president for medical education, said coaching is one of the ways the faculty can ensure that the students are progressing and will graduate on time or earlier or later, depending on the design of the curriculum.

She told Medscape that, in the fall of 2018, the AMA sponsored a meeting about coaching with Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, and invited 40 medical schools, all of whom were interested in programs or had programs. These were the early adopters, representing about 20% of all medical schools, she said, and they varied greatly in size. "It's more about schools willing to be on the front lines of innovation than whether they are an older, established larger school," Skochelak said. Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, was one of the first leaders in medical school coaching, she said.

Skochelak gave an example of how coaches there helped students with self-assessment. The school gave first-year students data on how they had done on tests and how they performed in peer reviews. The students did a self-assessment on how they were doing and what their goals should be, and the coaches made the same assessments and set goals with each student. "There was only about 30% congruence," Skochelak said. "They didn't agree on what they were seeing. They did this about three times with their first-year students—by the end of their first year, they were up to almost 70% congruence." Coaches help the learner be better at understanding what they need to do in medical school and life to keep up with lifelong learning, she said.

"We're not very good at that," Skochelak said. "Studies have shown that people in general and physicians in specific areas are not always very good at self-assessment, and coaches really try to teach that self-assessment skill." Schools on the forefront of coaching are using computer dashboards so they can better track their progress and see it laid out visually.


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