Physician Health

Feeling burned out? Try picking up the phone to call your coach

Sara Berg, MS , News Editor

Professional coaching helped reduce physician burnout and improve resilience, job satisfaction, engagement and fulfillment among 88 physicians in a randomized clinical trial whose results were published in JAMA.

Physician burnout demands urgent action

The AMA is leading the national effort to solve the growing physician burnout crisis. We're working to eliminate the dysfunction in health care by removing the obstacles and burdens that interfere with patient care.

Each year, more solutions are introduced to combat physician burnout and improve well-being. And while the AMA supports individual measures to counter burnout, system-level changes must be made to create a culture of organizational support.

Committed to making physician burnout a thing of the past, the AMA has studied, and is currently addressing issues causing and fueling physician burnout—including time constraints, technology and regulations—to better understand and reduce the challenges physicians face. By focusing on factors causing burnout at the system-level, the AMA assesses an organization’s well-being and offers guidance and targeted solutions to support physician well-being and satisfaction. 

Authors of the pilot study, “Effect of a Professional Coaching Intervention on the Well-being and Distress of Physicians,” published in JAMA, found that professional coaching may be an effective way to reduce emotional exhaustion and overall physician burnout.

The study was conducted with physicians who worked in the departments of medicine, family medicine and pediatrics across different Mayo Clinic locations. After six months of professional coaching, emotional exhaustion decreased by an average of 5.2 points. Absolute rates of high emotional exhaustion fell by 19.5% after five months of coaching, while burnout dropped by 17.1%. Quality of life also improved.

This study suggests that individual or institutional investment in professional coaching may be a useful approach to supporting the professional workforce. Here is how it helped.

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These coaches can set your physician career on a winning path

Mentorship involves the mentor—or person with more knowledge and experience—guiding another individual in their career development. Peer support groups involve sharing knowledge, experience, and emotional and social support between individuals with common experiences. Both groups involve other physicians or individuals in health care.

Coaching is different. It involves inquiry, encouragement and accountability, but the coach does not have to be a physician. Through this, the coach helps to increase self-awareness, motivation and the capacity to take effective action.

In this pilot program, physicians participated in 3.5 hours of coaching during a five-month period, signaling there is not a need for hours upon hours of coaching—a little bit goes a long way. Professional coaching can be tailored to focus on different aspects as desired by recipients. The coach can also assist individuals in navigating their professional life, choices and career direction.

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Physicians' culture of invincibility prevents dealing with burnout

Over the five-month period, physicians were able to address a diverse range of professional needs, such as clinical work, career direction, leadership, work-life integration and self-care. Each session was confidential and devoid of traditional hierarchy.

During these sessions, while brief, the coach and physician identified needs, goals and action plans to focus on modifying individual behavior. In turn, this helped to promote well-being and facilitate decisions regarding a physician’s career. It also focused on individual action to change detrimental aspects of their work environment. As a result, a range of approaches is needed to address different aspects of a physician’s personal and work life that might affect well-being and satisfaction.

Physicians who received professional coaching experienced significant reduction in emotional exhaustion and overall symptoms of burnout. Professional coaching can help to improve retention, interpersonal relationships, job satisfaction, organizational commitment and communication skills.

The AMA’s STEPS Forward™ open-access modules offer innovative strategies that allow physicians and their staff to thrive in the new health care environment. These courses can help you prevent physician burnout, create the organizational foundation for joy in medicine and improve practice efficiency. One CME module specifically addresses health coaching.

The module is part of the AMA Ed Hub™ an online platform with high-quality CME and education that supports the professional development needs of physicians and other health professionals. With topics relevant to you, it also offers an easy, streamlined way to find, take, track and report educational activities.

Learn more about AMA CME accreditation.