Assessing a Structured Mental Fitness Program for Academic Acute Care Surgeons: A Pilot Study

Sneha G. Bhat*, Madhuri Nagaraj, Courtney Balentine, Timothy Hogan, Jennie Meier, Hillary Prince, Kareem Abdelfattah, Herbert Zeh, Benjamin Levi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: There is a well-established positive correlation between improved physician wellness and patient care outcomes. Mental fitness is a component of wellness that is understudied in academic medicine. We piloted a structured mental fitness Positive Intelligence (PQ) training program for academic surgeons, hypothesizing this would be associated with improvements in PQ scores, wellness, sleep, and trainee evaluations. Methods: This is a single-institution, prospective, mixed-methods pilot study. All active Burn/Trauma/Acute & Critical Care Surgical faculty and fellows in our division were offered the PQ program and the option to participate in this research study. The 6-wk program consists of daily exercises on a smartphone application, weekly readings, and small-group meetings with a trained mindfulness coach. Study outcomes included changes in pretraining versus post-training PQ scores, sleep hygiene, wellness, and teaching scores. A Net Promoter Score was calculated to measure user overall experience (range −100 to 100; positive scores being supportive). For secondary analysis, participants were stratified into high versus low user groups by “muscle” scores, which were calculated by program use over time. A postintervention focus group was also held to evaluate perceptions of wellness and experience with the PQ program. Results: Data were analyzed for 15 participants who provided consent. The participants were primarily White (73.3%), Assistant Professors (66.7%) with Surgical Critical Care fellowship training (86.7%), and a slight female predominance (53.3%). Comparison of scores pretraining versus post-training demonstrated statistically significant increases in PQ (59 versus 65, P = 0.004), but no significant differences for sleep (24.0 versus 29.0, P = 0.33) or well-being (89.0 versus 94.0, P = 0.10). Additionally, there was no significant difference in teaching evaluations for both residents (9.1 versus 9.3, P = 0.33) and medical students (8.3 versus 8.5, P = 0.77). High versus low user groups were defined by the median muscle score (166 [Interquartile range 95.5-298.5]). High users demonstrated a statistically higher proportion of ongoing usage (75% versus 14%, P < 0.05). The final Net Promoter Score score was 25, which demonstrates program support within this group. Focus group content analysis established eight major categories: current approaches to wellness, preknowledge, reasons for participation, expected gains, program strengths, suggestions for improvement, recommendations for approaches, and sustainability. Conclusions: Our pilot study highlighted certain benefits of a structured mental fitness program for academic acute care surgeons. Our mixed-methods data demonstrate significant improvement in PQ scores, ongoing usage in high user participants, as well as interpersonal benefits such as improved connectedness and creation of a shared language within participants. Future work should evaluate this program on a higher-powered scale, with a focus on intentionality in wellness efforts, increased exposure to mental fitness, and recruitment of trainees and other health-care providers, as well as identifying the potential implications for patient outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-18
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Surgical Research
StatePublished - Mar 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Academic surgeon
  • Burnout mitigation
  • Mental fitness
  • Positive intelligence
  • Wellness


Dive into the research topics of 'Assessing a Structured Mental Fitness Program for Academic Acute Care Surgeons: A Pilot Study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this