Importance: Female resident physicians are disproportionately affected by burnout, which can have serious consequences for their well-being and career trajectory. Growing evidence supports the use of professional coaching to reduce burnout in resident physicians, yet individual coaching is resource intensive and infeasible for many training programs.
Objective: To assess whether a structured professional group-coaching program for female resident physicians would lead to decreased burnout.
Design, setting, and participants: This pilot randomized clinical trial was conducted from January 1 to June 30, 2021, among 101 female resident physicians in graduate medical education at the University of Colorado who voluntarily enrolled in the trial after a recruitment period. Surveys were administered to participants before and after the intervention.
Intervention: With the use of a computer-generated 1:1 algorithm, 50 participants were randomly assigned to the intervention group and 51 participants were randomly assigned to the control group. The intervention group was offered a 6-month, web-based group-coaching program, Better Together Physician Coaching, developed and facilitated by trained life coaches and physicians. The control group received residency training as usual, with no coaching during the study. The control group was offered the 6-month coaching program after study completion.
Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome of burnout was measured using the Maslach Burnout Inventory, defined by 3 Likert-type 7-point subscales: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and professional accomplishment. Higher scores on the emotional exhaustion and depersonalization subscales and lower scores on the professional accomplishment subscale indicate higher burnout. Secondary outcomes of impostor syndrome, self-compassion, and moral injury were assessed using the Young Impostor Syndrome Scale, Neff's Self-Compassion Scale-Short Form, and the Moral Injury Symptom Scale-Healthcare Professionals, respectively. An intention-to-treat analysis was performed.
Results: Among the 101 female residents in the study, the mean (SD) age was 29.4 (2.3) years, 96 (95.0%) identified as heterosexual, and 81 (80.2%) identified as White. There were 19 residents (18.8%) from surgical subspecialties, with a range of training levels represented. After 6 months of professional coaching, emotional exhaustion decreased in the intervention group by a mean (SE) of 3.26 (1.25) points compared with a mean (SE) increase of 1.07 (1.12) points in the control group by the end of the study (P = .01). The intervention group experienced a significant reduction in presence of impostor syndrome compared with controls (mean [SE], -1.16 [0.31] vs 0.11 [0.27] points; P = .003). Self-compassion scores increased in the intervention group by a mean (SE) of 5.55 (0.89) points compared with a mean (SE) reduction of 1.32 (0.80) points in the control group (P < .001). No statistically significant differences in depersonalization, professional accomplishment, or moral injury scores were observed. Owing to the differential follow-up response rates in the treatment groups (88.2% in the control group [45 of 51]; 68.0% in the intervention group [34 of 50]), a sensitivity analysis was performed to account for the missing outcomes, with similar findings.
Conclusions and relevance: In this randomized clinical trial, professional coaching reduced emotional exhaustion and impostor syndrome scores and increased self-compassion scores among female resident physicians.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT05280964.