Moms in Medicine Can Benefit from Support Groups at Work

Mothers who work as medical professionals — physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners — find themselves playing the continuous role of primary caregiver, making them more susceptible to stress and burnout.

Now a new study shows that these caregiving women can significantly reduce their feelings of burnout by participating in support groups at work, according to a new study at Arizona State University (ASU) and the Mayo Clinic.

“Women medical professionals who are mothers often face the dual role of being the primary caregiver both for their patients and their children,” said Dr. Cynthia Stonnington, associate professor and chair of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Arizona.

“This puts them at higher risk for burnout than their male counterparts. Our study investigated how this supportive program might help mitigate stresses and promote their day-to-day health and well-being.”

The Authentic Connections Groups (ACG) intervention involved weekly sessions at work over a three-month period. The researchers randomly assigned 40 women at Mayo to one of two groups: either the 12 weekly one-hour sessions of the ACG’s or 12 weekly hours of protected time to be used as desired.

The findings show that women who participated in the ACGs had significantly greater reductions in depression and other global symptoms of stress than those given free time (the control group). Also, benefits of the intervention were still more pronounced three months after the program ended.

Follow-up assessments showed significant between-group differences not only on depression and stress, but also on almost all other central variables, including parenting stress, self-compassion, feeling loved, and physical affection.

ACG moms also showed more reductions than control moms in cortisol levels (a biochemical indicator of stress) at both post-intervention and three months follow up.

The intervention provided “comfort, solace, and advice as needed, building what some called a ‘secret sisterhood’ of shared experiences with genuineness and reciprocity in the relationship,” said Dr. Suniya Luthar, a Foundation professor of psychology at ASU.

“These factors help build resilience for professional mothers who are under great daily stress, with substantial dual demands at work and at home.”

A critical factor in enabling this effort was the institutional commitment to wellness. Stonnington reported that the ACG program was implemented as part of an initiative begun in 2015 at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona to address burnout and turnover among female physicians.

“Another major reason for the success of this program is that the groups were implemented in the women’s everyday settings, during their regular work-days,” said Luthar.

“That the Mayo administration gave them the one hour per week free time to participate was a critical consideration, given how very packed these women’s schedules can be.”

More broadly, the authors note that the ACG program has the potential to be widely used in workplace wellness programs, given the high cost of worker stress and depression in modern times.

Since completion of the Mayo project, the researchers have successfully completed groups with military mothers, and are now offering it to women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines.

“It is our hope that over time, the ACG program will come to benefit women, mothers, and other adults in salient caregiving roles, as they routinely give so much of themselves to others while experiencing high everyday stress,” Luthar said.

“It just makes common sense. Those who serve as first-responders, and who offer so much tending for many others, must themselves be tended — with this happening on a reliable and ongoing basis.”

The study is published in the journal Women’s Health Issues.

Source: Mayo Clinic