Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon and journalist, wrote about his coaching experience in the article, Personal Best,” in the New Yorker in 2011. He points out that professional athletes at the top of their game have coaches, as do the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Executives have experienced the benefit of coaching for over 10 years, yet for most physicians, coaching is a new situation. Everyone needs guidance to reach new goals and be at the top of the game! As a coach for physicians, I can share my firsthand experience on when and why physicians seek coaching. You may recommend or consider coaching as an approach to accelerate development for performance at higher levels.

For decades, sports coaches have examined how training in mental skills helps athletes improve performance. As elite players know that mastering the mental edge means the difference between good and exceptional, they invest significant attention to mental training. Athletes who don’t practice mental training are at a disadvantage in both performance and satisfaction.

Rationale for Coaching Physicians

Medicine can be compared to both a sprint and a marathon.  You sprint through an intense daily schedule and also are expected to maintain high levels of performance over time! Like success for an athlete, success in medicine requires pushing beyond your current limits.

Current medicine challenges physicians to work harder, work faster, and produce better results. The pace of change in medicine is accelerating. What we knew yesterday isn’t enough. In a professional environment of uncertainty, it can feel nearly impossible to stop and make sense of the world in which we live. Personal lives and even asking what world we want to create can fall by the wayside.

Coaching provides a solution, as a place of safety in which physicians can explore, reflect, and make decisions about change. A goal-oriented, confidential, collaborative partnership, coaching helps physicians reach their full potential – as individuals and as physicians.

Situations When Physician Coaching is Desired

Physicians seek coaching when they encounter challenges that they probably didn’t learn to solve in medical school. The following everyday challenges have little to do with clinical skills, but everything to do with whether you love being a physician!

  • Friction/chaos in medical practice. Change and uncertainty is rough on staff, too!
  • Change in roles and/or responsibilities, such as starting a practice, becoming an employee physician, or being promoted to a leadership role.
  • Frustration with career. Overwork often results in an insufficient personal life and ultimately, burnout.
  • Dissatisfaction with career due to a reduced sense of personal accomplishment, too much stress, or change in an existing work situation can result in examining career strategies.

Common Topics Explored When Coaching Physicians

The topics physicians explore in a coaching relationship are as individualized as the physicians themselves. As I reflect over my past 10 years of coaching, the performance improvement topics that physicians typically seek fall into four categories:

  1. Communication:  Between peers, with administration, and with staff.
  2. Change Management: Adapting to change, controlling change, and effecting change – at the personal and organizational levels.
  3. Leadership: Motivating, developing, and inspiring others; delegating and negotiating.
  4. Career Development & Planning:  How to align areas of passion and trends in medicine.

Benefits of Coaching Physicians

The SECRET to high-level performance isn’t working harder; instead, it’s all about working SMARTER. Effective physician coaching provides physicians with a confidential thinking partner and a safe place to talk openly about challenges and opportunities in medicine. Similar to eliciting top performance by athletes, a combination of vision and a plan for the desired outcome in medical careers yield the best performance by physicians. It is time to embrace the coaching model in medicine.

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