Professional coaching can reduce emotional exhaustion, improve overall quality of life, and build resilience among physicians, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Liselotte N. Dyrbye, MD, from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and colleagues examined the effect of individualised coaching on physician well-being in a pilot randomised clinical trial involving 88 practicing physicians in medicine, family medicine, and paediatrics. Participants underwent six coaching sessions facilitated by a professional coach.

The researchers found that by the end of the study, emotional exhaustion decreased by a mean of 5.2 points in the intervention group after six months of professional coaching versus an increase of 1.5 points in the control group. At five months, the absolute rates of high emotional exhaustion decreased by 19.5% in the intervention group and increased by 9.8% in the control group (difference, −29.3%; 95% confidence interval [CI], −34.0 to −24.6%); the absolute rates of overall burnout decreased and increased by 17.1 and 4.9%, respectively (difference, −22%; 95% CI, −25.2 to −18.7). Quality of life improved by a mean of 1.2 points in the intervention group compared with 0.1 points in the control group (difference, 1.1 points; 95% CI, 0.04 to 2.1 points); resilience scores improved by a mean of 1.3 and 0.6 points, respectively (difference, 0.7 points; 95% CI, 0.0 to 3.0 points).

“The magnitudes of reduction in the emotional exhaustion score and in overall burnout were substantial and higher than in prior interventions and were likely to lead to a meaningful difference in rates of adverse outcomes,” the authors write

However, statistically significant reductions in depersonalisation or improvements in job satisfaction, engagement, or meaning in work were not observed, highlighting the reality that coaching, while useful, is not a replacement for organisational efforts to improve the practice environment and address the underlying drivers of burnout and dissatisfaction among physicians, the authors stressed.

Professional coaching differs markedly from other commonly described individually focused offerings (eg, mindfulness, nutrition, exercise, and support groups). Most of the topics discussed during the coaching sessions in our study centred on professional dimensions. Hence, coaching provided an avenue to assist individuals in their effort to navigate their professional life, work choices, and career direction and to build a capacity to influence organisational systems that affect their well-being. As such, coaching expands the framework of the types of offerings that organisations can provide to assist physicians both personally and professionally, the authors concluded.


Reference: Dyrbye LN, et al. Effect of a Professional Coaching Intervention on the Well-being and Distress of Physicians: A Pilot Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. Published online 5 August 2019.