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Program Helps Female Physicians Avoid Burnout


Online conferencing, messages, become tools against burnout, imposter syndrome.

A coaching program to reduce burnout for female physicians “significantly reduced emotional exhaustion” over a six-month period, according to a new study.

Researchers found participants in a web-based coaching program reported lower levels of emotional exhaustion (EE), or feeling emotional exhausted from work, and of imposter syndrome, the feeling of doubt about one’s skills or being undeserving of accomplishments.

Between 40% to 80% of residents and physicians experience burnout with surveys showing females feel it most acutely, according to a press release about the study.

“When it comes to physician burnout people tend to either blame the system or the individual and miss the physician culture,” study co-author Tyra Fainstad, MD, said in the press release. “Right now, the physician culture is toxic.”

Fainstad, visiting associate professor at the University of Colorado (CU) School of Medicine, and co-author Adrienne Mann, MD, assistant professor at the CU School of Medicine, said they both had experienced burnout, with feelings of “overwork, anxiety and creeping despair.” After finding life coaching to be helpful for their own experiences, they each pursued professional certification to help other physicians.

They created the Better Together Physician Coaching program to target self-destructive attitudes and created a voluntary program that drew 101 participating female resident physicians in graduate medical education at the University of Colorado. Participants had two group video-conferencing coaching calls per week with live coaching, along with unlimited anonymous written coaching through a secure website.

Using the Maslach Burnout Inventory, the researchers measure participants’ emotional exhaustion; depersonalization, or detached and impersonal treatment of patients; and professional accomplishment, beliefs around competence and success at work.

“Better Together participants had a meaningful and statistically significant reduction in emotional exhaustion, imposter syndrome and improvement in self-compassion scores,” Fainstad said. “The magnitudes of EE reduction were substantial and higher than in previously described wellness interventions.”

The researchers noted imposter syndrome was especially prevalent, so they created a curriculum to address it.

“You feel like a fraud even though you have the evidence that you belong where you are,” Mann said. “A lot of people believe if you are hard on yourself you will achieve more, that it will motivate you to succeed. But the exact opposite happens. You stop taking on new challenges for fear of failure all the while your brain is telling you that you don’t deserve to succeed.”

The coaching is not therapy and does not diagnose or clinically treat participants. “When supported institutionally, coaching is highly accessible and does not require insurance approval or co-pay,” the study said.

The program will be used in 20 other health care training sites around the nation with a follow-up study scheduled in fall 2022 to investigate its usefulness and scalability.

The study “Effect of a Novel Online Group-Coaching Program to Reduce Burnout in Female Resident Physicians” was published May 6, 2022, in the journal JAMA Network Open.

This was originally posted by our sister publication Medical Economics.

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