Focus on the positive and change will happen – that’s the mindset for a new coaching program that the Pediatric Residency and Fellowship programs at Mass General for Children (MGfC) introduced in July 2017. The coaching program aims to maximize the experiences of interns, residents and fellows by pairing them with providers from various specialties who volunteer to coach 1-2 trainees on their personal and professional goals. Where the program differs from a traditional mentorship program lies in the approach.

“We use a positive psychology model, in which coaches ask their trainees what they do well and what their strengths are,” said Benjamin Nelson, MD, a coach and the director of the Pediatric Pulmonary Fellowship Program at MGfC. “Coaches ask how trainees can use those strengths inside and outside of the hospital. In medicine, we focus a lot on what we need to improve, so this coaching program is an opportunity to flip that focus into a more positive space.”

This program is modeled after the award-winning MGH Professional Development Coaching Program, developed by Kerri Palamara, MD, of Primary Care at Massachusetts General Hospital, in conjunction with the Institute of Coaching at Harvard Medical School. The Department of Medicine at Mass General has been using a coaching program for trainees for the past six years, a model that has spread internationally for physicians-in-training and faculty. Nelson, inspired by the program’s success, worked with Palamara to implement the program in pediatrics.

“The coaching program is a way to decrease burnout and increase well-being in our trainees so they have fulfilling professional and personal lives,” said Nelson. “Coaches have no impact on trainees’ grades or evaluations, so it’s a more objective relationship than someone who serves as a mentor.”

The years during residency or fellowship are times of deep personal and professional change, said Takara Stanley, MD, a coach and director of the Pediatric Endocrine Fellowship Program at MGfC. “It’s an exciting time to be reflective, which is what this coaching program really encourages,” said Stanley. “It’s refreshing as a coach and it’s a totally different mindset. The positive psychology approach allows you to open up to creative ways of problem-solving.”

During her fellowship training in Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine, Mengdi Lu, MD, wanted to focus on her health and work-life balance. “My coach asked me where I saw myself monthly and weekly and I decided to take cycling and yoga classes,” said Lu. “It’s easy to berate yourself if you fall off track, but my coach helped me overcome that all-or-nothing mindset and focus on my positive traits. I’ve learned how to improve my own resiliency and that it’s not an all-or-nothing mindset to anything else I do in life, so why would fitness be any different?”

This year, Lu’s role as fellow has become more diverse as she does research in addition to caring for patients and families. “Research is very different from my clinical role and my coach has helped me determine my research path as well,” she said. “In medicine, you are surrounded by mentors and colleagues who are very career-focused, which has its benefits, but this coaching program brings in a personal component for a more holistic approach that improves multiple areas of your life.”

For coaches, drawing on their own experiences from their residency and fellowship days means developing a deeper relationship with their trainees. “As a coach, you’ve been where your trainee is. You can help your trainee develop new ways of thinking through those challenges and ways to apply their strengths,” said Vandana Madhavan, MD, MPH, a coach and provider in the divisions of Pediatric Infectious Disease and Pediatric Hospital Medicine, as well as in Pediatric Primary Care at MGfC. “Coaching is a valuable relationship for me as well. I’ve found that I can apply the training framework to my own personal and professional goals and bring those experiences into all aspects of my various roles.”

For more information about the MGH Professional Development Coaching Program, contact Kerri Palamara, MD, at or Ben Nelson, MD, at