The AWS Coaching Project

03 Jun 2018

When I started my residency 7 years ago, not many people talked about physician depression, suicide, or burnout.  It was like a dirty word, there, but hidden beneath the surface as many suffered silently. In the past few years, however, the topic of physician burnout has reached the forefront.  It is hard to open twitter or even top medical journals without seeing a new article related to physician burnout.

Burnout is defined as “feelings of emotional fatigue, cynicism and poor self-efficacy secondary to occupational stress”.  Recent studies have shown high rates of burnout in surgery residents, up to 69% in one study 1, with higher rates in women. The drivers of burnout in women surgery residents may be different compared to their male colleagues and include gender bias, work-life balance stressors, and a challenge in finding effective mentorship in a field that is still lagging in promoting women to leadership roles.

The question is: how do we address this to reduce rates of burnout in women surgeons to promote the AWS mission “to inspire, encourage, and enable women surgeons to realize their professional and personal goals”?  The AWS has been fortunate to team up with a coaching expert from the Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Kerri Palamara, to pilot a professional development coaching program through AWS. Her coaching program pairs faculty with residents to use positive psychology exercises to foster professional and personal development.  She has implemented this nationwide with studies showing reduced rates of burnout 2.

The AWS in conjunction with Dr. Palamara has been awarded a large grant to implement and study this program across AWS.  The exercises will be specifically tailored towards women surgeons and the unique issues and adversities we face. All AWS resident and faculty members are welcome and encouraged to sign up.  For more information about The AWS Coaching Project and to sign up, please go here

  1. Elmore LC, Jeffe DB, Jin L, Awad MM, Turnbull IR. National Survey of Burnout among US General Surgery Residents. Journal of the American College of Surgeons. 2016;223(3):440-451.Shanafelt TD, Hasan O, Dyrbye LN, Sinsky S, Satele D, Sloan J, West CP. Changes in Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Balance in Physicians and the General US Working Population Between 2011 and 2014. Mayo Clin Proc. 2015;90(12):1600-13.
  2. Palamara K, Kauffman C, Bazari H, Stone V, Donelan K. Promoting success: A professional development coaching program for interns in medicine. JGME. 2015; 7(4);630-7. 1

Dr. Andrea Merrill is a chief resident in general surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. During her residency she did a year of breast surgery outcomes research followed by a yearlong editorial fellowship at the New England Journal of Medicine. Next year she will be starting a surgical oncology fellowship at the James Cancer Hospital at the Ohio State University. She is currently serving as the AWS Resident and Fellow Committee representative. You can find her on twitter at @AndreaLMerrill.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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