Life coaching can help provide work/life balance

| February 20, 2023

Life coaching can help provide work/life balance

By Maureen M. Petersen, MD, FACAAI

Allergists/immunologists are well aware of the challenge of providing quality care for their patients in an ever-changing and often difficult health care environment. We are no strangers to long workdays and endless weeks filled with patient consultations while dealing with demanding insurers and endless paperwork. Despite this, we have a steadfast commitment to patient safety and satisfaction, but we can be faced with limited resources. As physicians, it can be difficult to admit when we are feeling overloaded or over-stressed. That heavy load can start to be emotionally draining, resulting in burnout. With high expectations from patients and a culture of “pushing through it,” many physicians consistently put themselves last, suffering silently as they aid their patients on their journey toward better health.

Doctors today face rising levels of burnout. Allergists/immunologists are no strangers to this concept. Fatigue and exhaustion have become an integral part of being a physician today. Research shows that burnout has had serious long-term effects on physicians’ physical health as well as their emotional well-being. This is an imminent threat to health care organizations. We must prioritize our efforts in finding effective solutions to address this crisis for the sake of our colleagues and the patients we serve.

Burnout has been defined as emotional exhaustion, interpersonal disengagement, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. The rise of physicians experiencing burnout has resulted in a cost to physicians, our patients, and our health care organizations. Suicide rates for physicians are higher than the general population, with female physicians having a suicide rate 7.5% higher than women from the general population.1 These rates are alarming. Burnout has resulted in issues affecting health care delivery, with an increased number of medical errors and a decrease in patient satisfaction. Physicians are leaving their organizations due to burnout, which results in a financial impact to the organization. Burnout affects entire medical establishments – it can have negative impacts on recruitment, retention, and ultimately, patient outcomes. Something needs to be done to tackle this epidemic.

Many published articles have described interventions that can be used to decrease physician burnout. It is clear that a successful approach requires multifaceted interventions at both the institutional and individual levels. For example, changes to work processes and work culture have been described at the organizational level, and mindfulness and stress management training at the individual level. More recently, published randomized controlled trials have investigated coaching as an intervention to promote well-being and alleviate burnout.2,3,4 It has become clear that coaching is an important tool in our toolbox.

Life coaching can help guide physicians toward prioritizing their own well-being while still providing top quality care to their patients. It can help physicians create a more meaningful experience in their practices or achieve greater balance in their lives. But what exactly is life coaching? What is the evidence that this intervention works? And how do you go about finding a qualified life coach?

Through a collaborative and systematic approach, coaching empowers individuals to explore and reach their full potential. Coaching sessions can be conducted remotely or in person and are used by many professionals as an effective tool for leadership growth, career development, and to make positive health changes. Coaching is a valuable tool to bring out an individual’s best and unlock their highest potential. It is an intervention that focuses on setting and reaching future goals, rather than addressing underlying behavior issues. A life coach can improve a physician’s work-life balance by helping the physician set priorities, establish boundaries, and create a more fulfilling life outside of work. Coaches can help physicians improve their communication skills and navigate challenging interpersonal situations with patients, colleagues, and family members. By working with a life coach, physicians can gain new perspectives, build resilience, and develop the skills and strategies they need to lead a more fulfilling and successful life both personally and professionally.

In contrast, psychotherapy examines the root of behavior and is more past-focused. Coaching is also different from mentoring. Mentoring involves imparting wisdom so another can develop skills from their mentor’s knowledge base. Instead of imparting wisdom as mentors do, however, coaches are active listeners who can bring the awareness that will enable clients to reach insightful conclusions themselves. Coaching is a powerful tool for achieving tangible goals. It offers guidance to individuals looking to make meaningful changes in their lives, without taking the place of mental health services or mentoring relationships.

Studies demonstrate that coaching can empower individuals to strengthen their psychological capital – a powerful combination of self-efficacy, hope, optimism and resilience.5 Self-efficacy is the belief and confidence in one’s own capabilities. Hope is the motivation toward achieving desired objectives, and optimism is a positive outlook on the future. Resilience is defined as the capacity to quickly recover from difficult situations. Medical literature demonstrates that coaching provides benefits in each unique psychological capital dimension.2

Finding a life coach can be challenging, but with the right professional, physicians can learn to manage stress, develop new skills, and gain clarity in their lives. Choosing a life coach is an important decision that requires research and thought. As a physician, it’s important to find someone who understands our lifestyle and how to best support our personal and professional life. Here are some tips:

Do the research
The first step in finding the right life coach is to do the research. Use coach directories such as The Life Coach School directory and search online for reviews of different coaches to get an idea of their style and approach. Read up on their qualifications as well as any certifications they may have. Ask colleagues or friends who have worked with a coach before if they would recommend them. They might be able to provide some guidance on how to find someone who will meet your needs. The College’s Physician Well-being Facebook group might be a good place to reach out to others not only for life coach recommendations, but also to interact with peers on burnout and well-being issues. The group is for ACAAI member physicians only.

Set up an interview
After narrowing the list of potential coaches, set up interviews with each one. During this process, ask questions about their experience working with physicians as well as their approach to coaching. Ask them about their methods for setting goals, dealing with stress, or other issues that may arise during the coaching process. This is also a good opportunity to get an idea of whether it would be a good working relationship. There must be trust between the coach and the client in order for sessions to be successful.

Consider the budget
Life coaching can be on the expensive side, so it’s important to consider the budget when deciding which coach is right for you. Some coaches offer sliding scale fees based on income level; others charge by session or by package, depending on what services they offer and how much time they anticipate spending with each client. It’s also worth noting that some coaches offer discounts if clients purchase multiple sessions up front rather than paying as they go.

After evaluating all these factors, it will be clear which life coach will be the best fit for you given your lifestyle, budget, and goals. Working with a qualified professional can help provide the clarity needed to create positive changes in your personal and professional life. With the right support system, allergists/immunologists can live even fuller lives – both personally and professionally!

If you or someone you know have thoughts of suicide, call the Suicide Crisis Hotline at 9-8-8.

1Irigoyen-Otiñano M, Castro-Herranz S, Romero-Agüit S, Mingote-Adán JC, Garrote-Díaz JM, Matas-Aguilera V, López-Ordoño GJ, Puigdevall-Ruestes M, Alberich S, González-Pinto A. Suicide among physicians: Major risk for women physicians. Psychiatry Res. 2022 Apr;310:114441. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2022.114441. Epub 2022 Feb 13. PMID: 35183987

2Dyrbye et al. Association of Clinical Specialty With Symptoms of Burnout and Career Choice Regret Among US Resident Physicians. JAMA. 2018;320(11):1114-1130. JAMA. 2019 Mar 26;321(12):1220-1221. doi: 10.1001/jama.2019.0167. PMID: 30912842.

3McGonagle, A. K., Schwab, L., Yahanda, N., Duskey, H., Gertz, N., Prior, L., Roy, M., & Kriegel, G. (2020). Coaching for primary care physician well-being: A randomized trial and follow-up analysis. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 25(5), 297–314.

4Palamara K, Chu JT, Chang Y, Yu L, Cosco D, Higgins S, Tulsky A, Mourad R, Singh S, Steinhauser K, Donelan K. Who Benefits Most? A Multisite Study of Coaching and Resident Well-being. J Gen Intern Med. 2022 Feb;37(3):539-547. doi: 10.1007/s11606-021-06903-5. Epub 2021 Jun 7. PMID: 34100238; PMCID: PMC8858365.

5 Luthans & Youssef-Morgan. Psychological Capital: An Evidence-Based Positive Approach. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior 2017. 4:17.1–17.28. doi 10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-032516-113324.