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Combating Physician Burnout with Coaching

The age-old expression…the landscaper always has the worst-looking yard…means that we tend to pour ourselves into our professions, but don’t necessarily give ourselves the same TLC. The same can be true for physicians. In this month’s blog content, we discussed the burnout epidemic among medical workers, as well as ideas on how to combat the mental, emotional and physical demise of healthcare staff. 

Fortune 500 companies invest in coaching to encourage behavioral proficiency of their current leaders and leaders-in-training. Personal development and leadership coaching have become mainstream in recent years.

Respected, world-renowned coaches such as Tony Robbins, John Maxwell, and Rachel Hollis are plastered all over social media, podcasts and stand on stages in front of tens of thousands of “students.” It’s time to invest in coaches for physicians who are deserving and very much need some attention in the self-care department.

The high-pressure environment of healthcare can cause providers and medical staff’s unhappiness to build on one another. This can often lead to high staff turnover, which exacerbates the problem by leading to even more dissatisfaction among physicians.

The good news is that the benefits of implementing coaching in the healthcare industry are vast, and decreasing physician burnout will cause a ripple effect that will positively impact a variety of areas well beyond the doctors themselves.

The Epidemic: Physician Burnout

In the high screen time and even higher demands of physicians in 2019 — both from corporate leadership and patients with high expectations — quality one-on-one time with patients seemingly decreases year after year.

Unlike decades ago, the provider of today is no longer able to primarily focus on their doctor-patient relationship, because they are stretched between compliance regulations, billing bureaucracy, following standardized guidelines, among other responsibilities. Patients are no longer the only ones suffering; their providers are feeling frustrated and experiencing a loss of satisfaction in their profession.

Offering coaching to healthcare providers would narrow in on their well-being in high-pressure surroundings, as well as focus on solutions for their performance challenges.

Benefits of Coaching

Like other corporate industries who provide coaching to leadership, how could coaching help physicians find satisfaction in their work-life again, allowing them to feel a sense of pride and control again in their profession?

Coaching is a catalyst for self-awareness and understanding. It promotes strategies and solutions to problem-solving, works on releasing limiting beliefs and doubts, uncovers fresh points of view to consider, and focuses on positioning one’s personal values with their professional role.

Applications of Coaching

Implementing coaching is really quite flexible and can be done face-to-face or virtually, which is helpful for a busy physician with a jam-packed schedule. Of course, in-person meetings would be ideal, but conference calls or video meetings such as Zoom are perfectly acceptable and productive too.

Introductory coaching sessions are intended to create short-term goals and long-term goals for the provider. These goals should not only be actionable and measurable, but they should be in alignment with the physician’s values too. Another important step would be to identify what the action items are in order to meet these goals. During the course of the ongoing coaching sessions, the client and the coach will build rapport, ensure that the goals remain in-focus and a priority, and make adjustments to the goals as needed. The coach acts as an accountability partner and keeps the provider in a solutions-based frame of mind. They will also teach skillsets for coping mechanisms, including combating stress, practicing mindfulness, and learn exercises for resiliency. These strategies have been referenced by the Society of Consulting Psychology in 2017, during a presentation on Physician Well-Being. Its emphasis was on using coaching as a tool to magnify the performance of teams, and for elevating a cultural shift in the healthcare profession.

Promising Results for Physician Coaching

In a study administered through an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, a group of coaches and researchers evaluated 60 PCP groups at four large Boston-area healthcare institutions. Their goal was to determine the benefit of positive psychology coaching interventions; would it improve well-being and lower burnout? As of 2017, it is believed to be the first controlled study of a physician coaching intervention of this magnitude.

Data uncovered that this type of well-being strategy, where coaches align with anxious PCPs to pinpoint and address their goals, can, in fact, produce improvements in both job satisfaction and engagement.

While preliminary results of physician coaching are definitely promising, it must be acknowledged that the root of today’s current “burnout” epidemic is largely systemic and environmental. If the drivers of what is causing the burnout, to begin with, aren’t addressed, then the physicians will be limited to preventative interventions (i.e. symptom and reduction of the damage that was done), vs. fixing the issues at their core.

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