August 30, 2017

Supporting Physician Well-Being Through Coaching Program

The Physicians Foundation awarded a grant to the MGH Internal Medicine Professional Development Coaching Program to support physician residents' well-being and development of leadership skills. Kerri Palamara, MD, director of the MGH Internal Medicine Primary Care Residency Program and the coaching program, shares how this program has partnered with the Physicians Foundation to pair residents with a trained faculty coach to support physician well-being.

Q. What is the MGH Internal Medicine Professional Development Coaching Program and what is its purpose?

The MGH Internal Medicine Professional Development Coaching Program is designed to support physician residents in a new way through positive psychology coaching. This program links a resident with a trained faculty coach whose career interests are different from each other – a critical component of the program to reinforce that the coaching environment is a safe space for reflection and growth, separate from those whom the residents work with professionally. This helps the individual resident develop a vision of who they can be at their best, process their experiences, cope with stressors they uniquely face and set goals to help optimize their experience in residency and beyond. To help build leadership skills, in years two and three, we particularly focus on their professional development in areas of emotional intelligence, leadership capabilities and authentic leadership.

Q. How has the program improved residents’ wellbeing and leadership skills? Please share a few examples.

Our latest research on internal medicine residents and their faculty coaches suggests that those who participate in the coaching program reduce emotional exhaustion while improving coping skills, workplace experiences, satisfaction and relationships. This contributes to an organizational culture of support and well-being in the learning environment, and allows residents to engage in reflection, goal-setting and improvement regularly. Faculty and residents are using skills learned through coaching in many of their other relationships, such as with patients, family and friends, mentors and other residents. These findings have been replicated in internal medicine residency programs outside of MGH as well.

Q. How can residents and volunteer faculty members join the Coaching Program? Please share if there are any specific criteria required to be a coach.

Residents are enrolled automatically upon entry into the MGH Internal Medicine Residency Program and are paired with their coach prior to beginning residency. Volunteer coaches are recruited to join the program based on their interest in engaging with residents and like-minded faculty, and learning new skills that will be valuable to their own development.

Q. What is your long-term vision for the program?

The long-term vision for the program at MGH would be for every physician and physician-in-training to have the opportunity to receive coaching. This could either occur on a short-term, as-needed basis, or in a longitudinal relationship with another physician coach. In addition, division and departmental leadership would receive training in cultivating a workplace and learning environment that supports and sustains physician well-being. As we develop this long-term vision within MGH, we will continue to partner with other institutions to share and disseminate this work.

Q. How has the grant from the Physicians Foundation helped further the cause of the Coaching Program?

Our internal medicine residents and their faculty coaches have seen clear benefits of engaging in the Professional Development Coaching Program. The grant from the Physicians Foundation allows us to expand our coaching footprint within the institution, and helps us further investigate the connection between coaching and physician well-being. When we have early data on the benefits outside of internal medicine residency, we’ll be able to expand nationally. This is similar to the way we disseminated our work in internal medicine.