Does Physician Coaching Have Any Value?

April 11, 2011
Philippa Kennealy MD MPH CPCC PCC

Physicians are smart, well-trained professionals who are not in the habit of asking for help. They're accustomed to being viewed as the problem-solvers, rather than the seekers of advice or assistance. So why would they consider physician coaching? Here are more than a few good reasons.

Physicians are smart, well-trained professionals who are not in the habit of asking for help. They're accustomed to being viewed as the problem-solvers, rather than the seekers of advice or assistance. So why would they consider physician coaching?

A recent article in the Physician Executive makes the case for physician coaching by examining the results that have been documented in other industries using executive coaching to develop their folks.

Reporting results such as:

• increased productivity;

• increased teamwork;

• improved working relationships with peers, direct reports, clients; and

• dramatic returns on investment (ROIs).

The article points out what we doctors already know -- we came out of med school and residency trained to handle acute abdomens, comas, broken bones or febrile convulsions, but we were never taught how to handle the challenges our fellow humans present in our daily working and professional relationships. Nor were we encouraged to deeply examine our own lifestyle and professional desires, needs, or goals.

I'm asked all the time what goes on in physician coaching. First, what kinds of coaches for physicians are there? There are business coaches, executive coaches, life coaches, spiritual coaches ... to name a few.

As the article states, there are three main approaches:

• help acquire skills;

• act as a sounding board;

• create a developmental plan.

Sounds a little dry to me, so here is my take on it:

At its core, coaching is an intimate helping relationship, built on trust, openness and a willingness to challenge the "status quo." This means helping you get unstuck, get clear, or get into action. Coaching involves asking the kinds of questions that provoke reflection and a re-evaluation of your assumptions; it also demands that the coach use a special kind of listening, uncontaminated by his or her agenda for the client, but focusing instead on what lies deeper within your heart or spirit.

As warm and fuzzy as that sounds, coaching only works if it sets high standards and expects rigor and discipline on the part of both players -- your coach and you, the client. It is not for the faint-hearted or lazy! Good coaching doesn't avoid feelings but, unlike therapy or counseling, will explore your feelings as a way to address procrastination, hesitation and ambivalence and aim for results, rather than try to fix what is broken. Coaching and therapy are wonderfully complementary.

Coaching relies on accountability and action -- making changes, making things happen, by mutual agreement. A really good coach is much more of an "equal partner-in-exploration" than a know-it-all teacher or consultant on a pedestal. Coaches know that your best answers lie within you -- we're there to help patiently and persistently draw them out, because we see your capabilities and magnificence often much better than you can! Your coach should be a resource for brainstorming, and directing you to tools, information, books, other experts etc.

Coaching is typically very enjoyable -- who doesn't want to be exploring dreams, shooting for happiness, and maximizing potential? Part genie, part annoying gnat, part honest mirror, part sergeant major, part blankie -- that's your physician coach!

Any questions?