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Coaching and Leadership Training Can Help Med Students Avoid Burnout

Jack Penner
JP Mikhaie
Margaret Cary

By MARGARET CARY, JACK PENNER, and JP MIKHAIE

Burnout is one of the biggest problems physicians face today. We believe that addressing it early — in medical school — through coaching gives physicians the tools they need to maintain balance and meaning in their personal and professional lives.

We say that after reading comments from participants in our coaching program, “A Whole New Doctor,” developed at Georgetown University School of Medicine. This program, born almost by chance, provides executive coaching and leadership training to medical students, who are exactly the right audience for it.

Medical students tend to begin their education as optimistic 20-somethings, eager to learn and eager to see patients. After spending one or two years on the academic study of medicine, they move to the wards where they observe the hidden curriculum — a set of norms, values, and behaviors conveyed in implicit and explicit ways in the clinical learning environment.

In the hospital, convenience and expediency, deference to specialists, and factual knowledge tend to replace the holistic and patient-centered care that is lauded during the preclinical years. This new culture nudges some students to the brink of burnout and depression. Some consider suicide.

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