Mentors, Sponsors, Coaches and Colleagues Help with Burnout

by Arlen Meyers

Physician burnout is pervasive and appears to be worsening. In fact, in some specialties, residents are burned out even before they have spent their first day in practice. But, they are not alone since burnout happens in many industries other than medicine.

Burnout is considered to have a range of symptoms. There is no agreement which of those are part of it and which ones are not. But all definitions given so far have in common that the symptoms are regarded as being the consequence of stressful activities in or outside the job. One possible source of stress outside the job is caring for a family member, for example.

Three main areas of symptoms are considered to be signs of burnout syndrome:

  • Emotional exhaustion: People affected feel drained and exhausted, overloaded, tired and low, and do not have enough energy. Physical symptoms include pain or problems with the stomach or bowel.
  • Alienation from (job-related) activities: People affected find their jobs increasingly negative and frustrating. They may develop a cynical attitude towards their work environment and their colleagues. They may, at the same time, increasingly distance themselves emotionally, and disengage themselves from their work.
  • Reduced performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work, at home or when caring for family members. People with burnout regard their activities very negatively, find it hard to concentrate, are listless and experience a lack of creativity.

Burnout can also be described as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results,” and is a stress-related state and there are multiple causes.

Burn out interventions and prevention programs both at the personal and organizational level are successful 80% of the time. However, both personal and organizational interventions are better than either alone, and the results tend to fatigue over time.

Mentors, coaches, sponsors and colleagues might help, but , you need to understand the roles each one plays and when and how to engage them. Here is what to do when your boss refuses to be your sponsor.

Mentors are accountability partners who help you stay on track to meet your goals. They are hard to find and the lack of a mentor is an oft quoted reason for entrepreneurial failure. Many entrepreneurs have a hard time finding the right mentor for various reasons. Mentors help your personal development.

Here are some tips on being a good mentor. It starts with building a genuine relationship.

Sponsors are different from mentors. Their job is to run cover for you in your organization and help you find the scarce resources intrapreneurs need to succeed. They are making an investment in your idea, and, like every investor, they expect a return within a defined time.

They are also called “rabbis” and you should find and be one yourself. Many who consider themselves to be sponsors are acting more like mentors. To claim the title of sponsor, a senior leader should be an active advocate for their protégé – a more junior professional who the sponsor sees as a top performer, with tons of potential, who deserves to move up in their career. A sponsor has three primary responsibilities: to believe in and go out on a limb for their protégé; to use their organizational capital, both publicly and behind closed doors, to push for their protégé’s promotion; and to provide their protégé with “air cover” for risk-taking.

Colleagues are people you work with that you admire and can emulate. They are not friends, but rather a honest sounding board. They set an example by their actions. There are many reasons why colleagues make good mentors or confidantes.

Coaches The goal of the coach is to facilitate learning, focus, and results. Coaches are trained in the strategies for achieving the results specific to their domain of coaching. Although they may not have experience generating the results you are looking for in themselves, they should have experience generating these results in other people or organizations. Coaches teach you a skill.

Many of you who are reading this don’t have a mentor. But, here are some ways to change that.

Here are some best practices for mentors and mentees.

You might be a member of the miserable professional class. Whether you are an employed physician, a community practitioner, a budding CEO of a biomedical or health startup or an intrapreneur, you need help as an antidote to the stress. Take the time to cultivate the right relationship with the right person in the right role and thank your lucky stars you found them.

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Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at and co-editor of Digital Health Entrepreneurship


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