How coaching prevents and treats physician burnout


Prevention is the best medicine. But when you’re already sick, what you really want is an effective treatment. When the level of contagion is high, and the likelihood of contracting a disease is great, you want to know that there are options available to support you when you inevitably get sick. If herd immunity is the most effective means of eradication, you want to do your part and hope others will do the same. Some work hard to formulate the vaccine while others investigate by trial and error new potential cures. How amazing would it be if there was a single solution that could ultimately fulfill both roles?

Health has been threatened by a variety of pandemics for centuries. The health care system has been threatened by the pandemic of physician burnout for decades.  The intensity has increased in the past six months, bringing into greater awareness the importance of practicing effective preventative measures as well as the need for new innovations as treatment options. While we work toward the development of meaningful solutions for all pandemics, we have available today a practical, effective tool that can serve both as a vaccine and cure for physician burnout.

Physician coaching has been shown as effective against burnout. Engagement with a trained coach offers an opportunity for an individual to see the amazing power they have within to survive and even thrive in any situation. This is true for the already stressed, undervalued, overworked, unappreciated, ready-to-leave medicine physician AND for the generally productive, managing daily, doing fine at their job, navigating business-as-usual physician.

Coaching is a solution for the struggling and a support for the successful. It is a rare resource that can effectively serve both needs, and coaching does so reliably. Physicians often wait to ask for help, or never do – we can see this in the escalating suicide rates in the profession. Physicians advocate for vaccines for the prevention and eradication of disease. Recognizing physician burnout as a public health crisis allows us to approach it as we would any other disease. With a known preventative in coaching, offering this universally to physicians is a key step in quelling the crisis and moving to a place of health in the practice of medicine.

Consider the power of herd immunity. Imagine if all physicians, or at least a large majority, were inoculated with the simple yet profound skills provided in coaching and were no longer vulnerable to the stressors of the practice of medicine. Imagine if enough physicians gained immunity so that the toxic parts of the system would no longer have adequate hosts. The business of the health care system preys on exhausted, demoralized, vulnerable individuals, capitalizing on empathetic helpers and overwhelming the well-meaning hosts with RVUs, surveys, impossible pay structures, ultimately rendering them defenseless.

When physicians are resilient through coaching, they are no longer susceptible to the mistreatment, disrespect, inhumane conditions, unreasonable expectations, or priority of profits over people. They know their value inherently – it cannot be depleted by an external system. They learn how to create their own success in any system. They realize that only they hold the power to stay or to go. They recognize that they have the ability to create the environment they need to be successful; this begins by changing their internal environment and can continue by mapping an external path, if so desired.

The atrocities of the health care system have proven a deadly virus for hundreds of physicians. They infect countless more and can have long-lasting side effects. With coaching, physicians are often able to make a full recovery and reduce or even eliminate their chance of future susceptibility. We have the opportunity to create a new level of resiliency in our profession so that the atrocities are no longer lethal or even detrimental. When enough of us are immune, there will be adequate strength in the system to begin the decontamination of poisonous practices. If the entire physician workforce achieved this level of personal protection, it would extend naturally to the entire profession and segue into the detoxification of the whole system.

Physicians are advocates of health. This must include our own. Physicians identify threats to health. This must include those that threaten our own – burnout is proven a grave threat. Physicians seek, prescribe, and perform curative treatments. We have the treatment for burnout available – we must prescribe it for each other and seek it for ourselves. Physicians advocate for vaccination as prevention. We have the inoculation for burnout – we must make it widely accessible and encourage collective participation to gain the necessary herd immunity.

We have available to us a single solution that fulfills both prevention and cure for the pandemic of burnout – this single treatment will sustain the workforce that is needed to navigate the other pandemics we face. Coaching empowers us to continue our work in advocating for health, identifying and eliminating threats with our compassion, expertise, empathy, and lives intact. We must lead by example, ask for the help we need, use prevention as medicine, and emerge together immune to the toxicities threatening our profession and eradicate the disease of burnout through coaching.

Amelia L. Bueche is an osteopathic physician and founder, This Osteopathic Life.

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