Turning the tide: a quasi-experimental study on a coaching intervention to reduce burn-out symptoms and foster personal resources among medical residents and specialists in the Netherlands

BMJ Open. 2021 Jan 25;11(1):e041708. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2020-041708.


Objectives: Physician burn-out is increasing, starting already among residents. The consequences of burn-out are not limited to physicians' well-being, they also pose a threat to patient care and safety. This study investigated the effectiveness of a professional coaching intervention to reduce burn-out symptoms and foster personal resources in residents and specialists.

Design: In a controlled field experiment, medical residents and specialists received six coaching sessions, while a control group did not undergo any treatment. The authors assessed burn-out symptoms of exhaustion and cynicism, the personal resources psychological capital, psychological flexibility and self-compassion, as well as job demands and job resources with validated questionnaires (January 2017 until August 2018). The authors conducted repeated measures analyses of variance procedures to examine changes over time for the intervention and the control group.

Setting: Four academic hospitals in the Netherlands.

Participants: A final sample of 57 residents and specialists volunteered in an individual coaching programme. A control group of 57 physicians did not undergo any treatment.

Intervention: Coaching was provided by professional coaches during a period of approximately 10 months aiming at personal development and growth.

Results: The coaching group (response rate 68%, 57 physicians, 47 women) reported a reduction in burn-out symptoms and an increase in personal resources after the coaching intervention, while no such changes occurred in the control group (response rate 35%, 42 women), as indicated by significant time × group interactions, all p<0.01. Specifically, physicians increased their psychological capital (ηp2=0.139), their self-compassion (ηp2=0.083), and reported significantly less exhaustion (ηp2=0.126), the main component of the burn-out syndrome.

Conclusion: This study suggests that individual coaching is a promising route to reduce burn-out symptoms in both residents and specialists. Moreover, it strengthens personal resources that play a crucial role in the prevention of burn-out.

Keywords: education & training (see medical education & training); human resource management; mental health.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Mentoring*
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Physicians / psychology*