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Is peer coaching the solution to physician burnout?


In a new study, coaching from other docs significantly reduced many burnout symptoms

Doctors talking ©tiena-stock.adobe.com (Image produced using AI)

Image produced using AI

Most health care organizations that provide coaching to reduce burnout among physician employees use outside professionals as coaches. But a new study suggests that coaching from colleagues, rather than outsiders, can be just as effective--with the added benefits of improved accessibility and lower cost to the employer.

To conduct the study, a team of researchers recruited 138 volunteer physicians from Massachusetts General Physicians Organization, a large New England multi-specialty group. Volunteers were randomly assigned to either a coaching group or a control group that used standard institutional resources for addressing burnout.

Those assigned to the coaching group received six coaching sessions over three months from another Mass General Physicians doctor who had been certified in coaching. Along with various components of burnout, such as emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, outcomes of interest to the researchers included professional fulfillment, work engagement, self-valuation, quality of life, and the effect of work on personal relationships.

The results showed statistically significant improvements in burnout, interpersonal disengagement, professional fulfillment, and work engagement among the group receiving coaching compared with the control group. For example, mean scores for interpersonal engagement decreased by 30% in the coaching group but increased by 4% in the control group. And mean scores for overall burnout were down by 21.6% in the intervention group while rising by 2.5% in the control group.

Professional fulfillment mean scores rose by 10.7% in the coaching group but remained unchanged in the intervention group, while work engagement increased by 6.3% in the coached group compared to a 2.2% decrease in the control group. No statistically significant differences in mean scores were found for self-valuation, effect of work on personal relationships or quality of life.

The authors note the importance of the statistically significant improvements in the PFI shown in the study, since the PFI has been associated with fewer self-reported errors, and less sleep-related impairment and burnout.

Similarly, higher physician engagement “correlates with improved patient care, safety and satisfaction; reduced health care costs, and higher physician satisfaction and retention.”

They add, however, that a coaching program by itself isn’t sufficient to reduce burnout and improve physician well-being. Instead, it is “best suited in a portfolio of evidence-based interventions targeting individual-and systems-level drivers of well-being.”

The study, “Physician Coaching by Professionally Trained Peers for Burnout and Well-Being” was published April 12 on JAMA Network Open.

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