Physician coaching: the new normal?


What is coaching? It’s a conscious effort to notice and evaluate how our thinking impacts our experiences, how perspective shows up in the results of our life.

Coaching has been integral to fields other than medicine for many years. Yet, many physicians don’t know much about it — much less anything about its potential to radically transform the culture of medical training and our experiences in health care.

It’s time we caught up.

This August 2019 JAMA article hints that change is coming.

For burnout prevention, the future of medical training will include coaching in every med school and residency. In 10 years, it will be routine for every new attending to have a coach to lean on. We’ll look back on 2019 and think how bizarre and hazardous it was that young doctors and seasoned attendings were expected to function without better support.

What is coaching? Coaching is simply looking at how our thoughts produce the results in our life.

It’s the convergence of cognitive-behavioral and positive psychology concepts with actionable steps.

Instead of asking how to neutralize a problem and return to baseline, it looks at how to shift from good to better — from scraping by to unshakable resilience and well being.

And although coaching provides some accountability, it need not be lifelong.

Through coaching, physicians can efficiently tackle all the things that plague us: career dissatisfaction, “should I leave/should I go?” imposter syndrome, people-pleasing, pre-op anxiety, weight gain, relationship challenges, you name it.

Not sure how to confidently negotiate contract terms? There’s a coach for that.

Tired of always sacrificing yourself for others? There’s a coach for that.

Drinking to wind down, a little more than you’d like? There’s definitely a coach for that.

Burned out early in career and don’t know how to decide if you should leave clinical practice? Don’t know where to start to balance fitness, marriage and work?

High-achieving perfectionist plagued by doubt and anxiety?

Unsure how to shift to corporate leadership?

Emotional eating instead of charting?

Overworking, overspending, overeating, procrastinating, always feeling overwhelmed?

Sound familiar?

Coaching targets myriad discrete challenges, yet what’s incredible is that it develops a transferable skill set for issues beyond the original pain points.

The process of coaching is a process of learning.

Learning about mindset and how it shapes experience and drives actions. Learning about core beliefs and values that shape identity. Learning to notice the background mind chatter and identify the white noise of thoughts that are easy to miss.

Since physicians are consummate students and perpetual learners, it’s a perfect match. Physicians are exquisitely poised for this work because we are trained to look for what others don’t perceive. To find root causes. To troubleshoot and brainstorm. This heightened awareness and creative problem solving is the heart of coaching.

And topping it off, self-coaching is the daily practice of applying coaching tools to maintain the lessons learned.

Recalling the powerful “I’m sorry” piece, the physicians who commit suicide, and those who suffer from disenchantment, the time to take better care of ourselves is now.

As one of my coaching colleagues put it: “It’s time to heal the healers.”

Kristi H. Angevine is an obstetrician-gynecologist and can be reached at Habits on Purpose for Physicians.

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