3 Keys to a Successful Peer Support Program for Physicians


Through Northwestern Medicine’s “Scholars of Wellness” program, 10 medical specialties have found 10 different ways to reduce physician burnout. In obstetrics and gynecology, Angela Chaudhari, MD, found that many physicians reported emotional exhaustion due to surgical and obstetrical complications. To deal with these adverse events, Dr. Chaudhari created a peer support program that reached physicians within 72 hours of even identification to help physicians feel supported while learning life skills. ‘adaptation.

“Here at Northwestern, we’ve really spent time thinking about what we think is really important in a culture of wellness,” Dr. Chaudhari said during an AMA STEPS Forward™ webinar where she discussed supporting by physician peers. “There are a number of different models across the country, but ours really focuses on three main areas: caring for individuals, working to improve our work environment, and building community.”

“When we talk about peer support…we strongly believe that we need those three things to work together to make people feel good,” she said. “Our peer support program was originally developed to care for the individual and now it has grown over the past year and a half.

“What we’re seeing is that we’re changing our communities – we’re building more community in our very large organization to try to make it a better place to work,” Dr Chaudhari added.

Since its launch in February 2020, the peer support program has reached 160 physicians. These doctors had peer support interactions via email, Zoom, a phone call, or in person. System-wide expansion of the program began in September 2021 and more than 59 peer support coaches have been trained across the facility with more than 3,000 physicians of all specialties in 10 hospitals using the wellness intervention.

During the webinar, Dr. Chaudhari shared the keys to a successful peer support program.

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“When we started some of these programs, many people said they didn’t want to seek help because they found they would always have to see a psychiatrist or therapist for help after a adverse event,” said Dr. Chaudhari. “And it just didn’t feel like what they needed.

“Instead, with peer support, going to see a colleague, there was a relational equality that allowed people to really open up and be able to talk about their experiences and their feelings,” he said. she adds.

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“Our ideal was to say that adverse and distressing patient situations are occupational hazards for physicians,” Dr Chaudhari said, adding “we believe physician peer support is an essential part of protecting physicians.” of this danger”.

Hence their commitment was to ensure that there were qualified medical colleagues available for support. These physicians have been trained in peer support conversation, stress first aid, empathy and active listening.

It has helped “coaching colleagues better understand how to support our doctors during this adaptation process”, said Dr Chaudhari, adding that it has also helped to “create a culture of trust between doctors to share experiences and us.” enable better coping and create confidential encounters.

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These conversations often occur up to three times to ensure that the physician continues to cope well after the initial adverse event. It begins with awareness through an introduction and is followed by active, empathetic listening and open-ended questions.

“We’re giving doctors time to really think about the event to help them reframe what happened positively, potentially making sense of what happened and really looking for system issues that may have happened. contributed to the event,” said Dr Chaudhari. This helps to “determine how they are coping with this event, then wrap up with resources and referrals as needed.”

Determined to make physician burnout a thing of the past, the AMA has studied and is currently addressing the issues that cause and fuel physician burnout, including time constraints, technology and regulation. , to better understand and reduce the challenges that physicians face. Focusing on the factors causing burnout at the system level, the AMA assesses the well-being of an organization and offers guidance and targeted solutions to support physician well-being and satisfaction.


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