Professional Coaching Can Contribute to Physician Well-Being

By Will Boggs MD

August 08, 2019

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Professional coaching can improve the well-being and reduce the distress of physicians, researchers have found.

"With over 40% of physicians having substantial symptoms of burnout, professional coaching is one strategy that should be offered to help them recover," Dr. Liselotte N. Dyrbye from Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, told Reuters Health by email.

"Importantly, professional coaching should not be offered in place of organizational-level investment in reducing the system-level factors that are driving burnout in the first place. We need strategies to help physicians who have burnout, and we need investment in organizational-level change," she added.

Interventions focused on the individual and interventions focused on the structure or organization have both been found to be beneficial for addressing burnout among physicians, but few studies have examined the impact of professional coaching on various aspects of physician well-being.

Dr. Dyrbye's team conducted a pilot randomized clinical trial including 88 physicians, half randomized to the intervention group and the other half designated to receive the intervention after the active study.

The coaching intervention consisted of a one-hour initial professional coaching session followed by five 30-minute professional coaching sessions every two to three weeks within five months, all performed by telephone.

"The coaching sessions were unscripted, so physicians really got to shape their sessions around their personal and professional needs," Dr. Dyrbye said. "The topics they discussed mostly focused around common drivers of burnout, such as workload, work inefficiency, social support, meaning in work, and work-life integration."

Emotional exhaustion scores decreased significantly among participants in the coaching group (by 15.9%), but increased among participants in the control group (by 5.2%), a significant group difference, the researchers report in JAMA Internal Medicine, online August 5.

Overall burnout scores followed a similar pattern: decreasing with the coaching intervention while increasing in the control group.

Overall quality of life scores improved by 1.2 points (20.3%) in the intervention group but changed little (0.1 point, a 1.5% improvement) in the control group; this also represented a significant difference between the groups.

Participants in the intervention group also showed small but significantly greater improvements in resilience, but job satisfaction and measures of engagement and meaning at work did not differ.

"The focus of professional coaching for most physicians is within the work-domain," Dr. Dyrbye said. "For example, professional coaches can help them navigate their professional life, make work choices aligned with their values and goals, and enhance their ability to positively influence organizational systems that impact their well-being."

"Professional coaching, peer support, and mentorship can all have a role in our professional lives," she said. "As health care continues to evolve, we need to build our own capacity to manage work-related stressors and be positive influencers of change. We need to do so for ourselves, for our colleagues, for the next generation of physicians, as well as for our patients."


JAMA Intern Med 2019.