Physician mentor thyself

by Linda Miller

An international conference on physician health has stressed the important role of coaching and mentoring in developing leadership potential in clinicians and enabling satisfactory work/life balance among this group.

More than 300 delegates from 16 countries attended the oversubscribed International Conference on Physician Health on 15-17 September in London. The conference was a collaboration between the British, American and Canadian Medical Associations (BMA, AMA and CMA). The theme was: Milestones and transitions: maintaining the balance.

Coaching and mentoring schemes can offer support during transitions, such as when first becoming a doctor, during career transitions, parenthood and retirement.

Among the schemes discussed at the conference were peer mentoring to support academic foundation programme trainees and a highly valued resilience-building peer support programme for Norwegian senior doctors, which has group supervision.

Meanwhile, a trainee doctor from Leicester described how peer coaching helped her first ventures into academia.

Professor Dame Carol Black, principal of Newnham College, University of Cambridge, emphasised the importance of clinician health and wellbeing for quality of patient care. The programme of seminars and workshops were balanced with sessions on mindfulness, Qi Gong, ‘Walk the doc’ and ‘Run the doc’ sessions.

Two sessions were facilitated by experts from Health Education North West London’s (HENWL) pan-London Professional Support Unit (PSU) – formerly the London Deanery – which has an award-winning coaching scheme.

According to the latest statistics, the scheme has received 2,382 applications for coaching, some 216 people have attended the coach training courses and there is currently a core of 68 coaches.

Dr Catherine O’Keeffe, head of professional development at HENWL, emphasised how much “the coaching and mentoring service is valued as part of the PSU”, affirming how the coaches’ “individual contributions are appreciated” and acknowledging this “very important work”.

Coaching can help doctors negotiate to ensure their basic needs are met in the workplace. An observational study of doctors teaching in Calgary, Canada, found that, although they encouraged students to take meal breaks, their own efforts to eat or to visit the bathroom were prevented by workload issues. They prioritised professional responsibilities and patient care above their own basic needs.

The study enabled clinicians to negotiate a separate canteen space to eat without feeling guilty at being observed by patients and to discuss patient care without risking breaches of confidentiality.

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