In this article, we examine the evidence base for physician coaching and wellbeing, how to find a good coach, and how to tell if they’re right for you. Coaching programs have a growing evidence base in resident burnout prevention, in addition to well-established effects by increasing physician and patient satisfaction, productivity, and revenue
We also note a caveat around the need for systemic change – a white coat revolution if you will – to address the underlying toxicity of modern medicine causing so much physician distress, burnout, and moral injury.
Professional coaching has been around for decades for the business and sporting worlds. Unsurprisingly, coaching translates well to medicine – and positively impacts burnout and other important metrics.
A 2019 JAMA article demonstrated the benefits of physician coaching: it decreases emotional exhaustion and burnout out while increasing resilience and quality of life. This RCT of 88 physicians across multiple US sites examined the effects of 6 coaching sessions delivered by a professional coach.
All of these outcome measures improved significantly:
(whereas no statistically significant difference was found for measures of depersonalization, job satisfaction, meaning, or engagement).
Other studies show similar results: in a 2022 JAMA paper, a novel online coaching program for female residents demonstrated significant improvements in reduced emotional exhaustion and impostor syndrome scores and increased self-compassion scores.
Researchers implemented a 6-month, web-based group-coaching program, Better Together Physician Coaching, developed and facilitated by trained life coaches and physicians.
Nevertheless, coaching is not going to solve the systemic toxicity leading to burnout.
As others have commented, the 2019 study could be interpreted as blaming physician burnout on a personal failure of physicians that can be remedied by coaching.
We propose solutions to the systemic issues here. Until these are solved, we need to skill up with self-awareness; engage our neuroplasticity into new ways of thinking; and find new pathways in our lives and careers that maybe we hadn’t thought of before. That’s where coaching really shines.
A Google Search for “physician coaching” turned up over 22 MILLION results. Where does the busy physician begin looking? What criteria do I use to ensure quality? There are a number of high-quality coaches and mentors out there, most of whom now offer online coaching (how COVID has changed the world). So geography is less of an issue, but quality and connection are essential.
The good news is that Physicians Anonymous have over the last few months developed a high- quality directory of carefully chosen, vetted, and approved coaches for our members. We scrutinized their resumes and interviewed each one.
Fewer than 10% of applicants join our Physicians Anonymous Approved Coaches and Mentors Directory.
Each coach must have a coaching qualification, experience, and adhere to their qualifying organization’s code of ethics.
Firstly, are they qualified with a reputable Coaching accreditor? How many years experience do they have? Are they specialists in your niche? Are they a qualified MD so that they can understand from the inside? Is it important that they are not a doctor so that they can give perspectives from outside the system?
As with any working relationship, the quality of the relationship predicts outcomes. While coaching is not therapy, therapy provides a useful framework for understanding the coach-coachee relationship.
Furthermore, we know from psychology literature that the number one predictor of therapeutic effectiveness is the therapist-patient relationship. There must be trust, mutual respect, good communication.
But mostly it’s about trust.
Physician coaching with an accredited and experience coach helps physicians to move past burnout to create well-being, balance, and career fulfillment.
We have demonstrated the evidence base for resident burnout prevention programs in reducing emotional exhaustion and improving
If you are interested in accessing a Physicians Anonymous approved coach, please check out our carefully selected, experienced, wise, and values-aligned coaches here.