Career Policies| Volume 27, ISSUE 3, P382-390, May 2017

Fostering Resilience among Mothers under Stress: “Authentic Connections Groups” for Medical Professionals

Published:April 12, 2017DOI:



      We report on effects of an intervention to foster resilience among professional women at high risk for stress and burnout: health care providers (physicians, PhD clinicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners) who are mothers.


      Between February and November 2015, 40 mothers on staff at the Mayo Clinic, Arizona, were assigned randomly to either 1) 12 weekly 1-hour sessions of a structured, relational supportive intervention, the Authentic Connections Groups (n = 21) with protected time to attend sessions or to 2) 12 weekly hours of protected time to be used as desired (controls; n = 19). Participants were assessed at baseline, after the intervention, and 3 months follow-up on multiple psychological measures plus plasma cortisol.


      Across the 12 weeks of the intervention groups, there were zero dropouts. After the intervention, analyses of covariance showed significantly greater improvements (p < .05) for mothers in the Authentic Connections Groups than control condition for depression and global symptoms. By 3 months follow-up, significant differences were seen for these two dimensions and almost all other central variables, including self-compassion, feeling loved, physical affection received, and parenting stress, with moderate effect sizes (ηp2 0.08–0.19; median, 0.16). Participants in the Authentic Connections Groups (but not control) condition also showed significant reductions in cortisol levels at both after the intervention and follow-up.


      Facilitated colleague support groups could be a viable, low-cost, preventive intervention to mitigate burnout and distress for mothers in high-stress professional settings such as hospitals, resulting in personal benefit, greater engagement at work, and attenuated stress associated with parenting.
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      Suniya S. Luthar, PhD, is Foundation Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University and Professor Emerita at Columbia University's Teachers College. Her research spans resilience and vulnerability among various groups, including at-risk mothers and women in stressful work environments.


      Alexandria Curlee, MA, is a third-year graduate student in the clinical psychology doctoral program at Arizona State University. She is interested in interventions that promote resilience, specifically the salutary effects of prosocial behavior and intrinsic goals.


      Susannah J. Tye, PhD, is Director of the translational neuroscience laboratory in the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota. Her research spans neuroscience, genomic psychiatry and biomarker discovery, and translating biomarker knowledge into viable treatment approaches.


      Judith C. Engelman, MD, is a Board-Certified Psychiatrist in private practice for 33 years, now with research and teaching affiliations at Mayo Clinic. Her interests include individual, group and family therapy, psychopharmacology, nutrition, yoga, spirituality, and physician well-being.


      Cynthia M. Stonnington, MD, is Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine. Her research includes neuroimaging methods, prediction of cognitive decline, and testing interventions to foster resilience in the face of illness, or risk for illness or burnout.