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Duke study examines the rapidly growing industry of 'physician coaching'

a medical professional wearing a green uniform with a stethoscope and a paper heart in her pocket
Karolina Grabowska
Physician coaching can be a way to support doctors' well-being and help them access more of their potential

Duke University researchers have published a study on professional coaching for physicians, as the healthcare industry deals with burnout and people leaving the profession.

But the physician coaching field is growing more rapidly than standardization and science can keep up with.

Dr. Angela Passarelli, a professor of Management and Organizations at the Duke Fuqua School of Business, is a corresponding author on the study. She said the lack of standardization for physician coaching is a problem because doctors need all the support they can get.

"So, we want to make sure that we have the most prepared, best coaches, and some standardization across the industry of what to expect when you hire a coach,” said Passarelli.

The issue of burnout for healthcare workers is bigger than coaching can solve. But, until those changes are made, Passarelli said the resources offered to doctors should not have any inconsistencies or gaps.

“That is just too risky, given the problems that coaching is poised to be able to contribute to and at least help to alleviate, in the absence of more systemic change,” Passarelli said.

The study surveys and quantifies expert opinions to establish a consensus about what the skillset of a physician coach should include. It proposes six skill areas where coaches must show competency in order to effectively support physicians, including navigating DEI issues and managing physician burnout.

Passarelli said the study aims to provide a starting point for standardizing common practices and eventually creating a certification process for physician coaches.

Lily Burton reports on science as the 2024 AAAS Mass Media Fellow at WUNC. She is a PhD candidate in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at the University of Chicago and has written for Microbites, Science Unsealed and The Forefront, covering everything from machine learning to stories of patients surviving cancer. She also works with organizations like ComSciCon to host events for grad students in STEM fields to develop their science communication skills.
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