Coaching for Physicians

Is Having a Professional Coach a Solution to Optimizing your Practice's Performance?

"What do you do?"

The proverbial question we get asked day in and day out by strangers, acquaintances, family, and friends. We are conditioned to answer with our current job or career.

Thanks to an anticipated, planned for and welcomed career change, my new answer is some version of "I am a professional coach."

And the standard response back is, "Really, for what sport?"

"The game of life,"

I say and then the conversation either stops in its tracks, or takes off to some very interesting place.

And in the ensuing conversation, I tell them about this relatively new profession called "coaching" which most often has an adjective in front of coaching such as life, professional, executive, business or other such phrases that identify the coach's niche.

I appreciate the opportunity to have this conversation with you via this newsletter, and hope the information shared will tell what a coach is, and how enhancing your coaching skills or engaging a coach might help improve the performance of your medical practice, and might even be a solution for helping your disgruntled, irritable, difficult to get along with physician, or perhaps the "newbie" physician who is awestruck with the transition from residency.

"What is a coach?"

A coach is your champion; partner; advisor; guide; counselor; consoler; touchstone; personal listener; confidante; teacher or as one coach puts it, "the gardener of your mind." A coach helps you enhance the quality of your professional and personal lives, and reach peak performance and your ultimate potential.

So as you can surmise, coaching is a dynamic process of discovery, growth and development. Coaching creates an environment where there is freedom from judgment and from expectation, yet one of accountability and growth. In a coaching relationship, it is safe to question, appear vulnerable, observe, explore, experiment, learn and change. The process is designed to ensure lasting change and promote continuous growth.

In the hectic, demanding world of health care, professionals and leaders must find a way of staying on top of the surf, so that they are not sucked down and out by the riptide. A coach helps his client ride the wave, navigate through the rough waters, and enjoy the ride. There are so many reasons for physicians to feel disenchanted with their chosen profession, their calling. Having a coach helps them get back in touch with their passion for being a healer.

"So, a coach is like a therapist?"

Therapists typically work with people who need help becoming emotionally healthy. They deal with past issues and how to overcome them. So therapists tend to work with dysfunctional people to get them back to functional. Coaching is action oriented. It is about achieving growth through identifying and reaching goals, rather than by working through past issues. So a coach helps people go from functional to exceptional.

Another interesting distinction is that a coach is not a mentor although a coaching relationship has some characteristics of mentoring. Most often, a mentor is someone in your company who is higher up in the organizational structure, and is bestowing knowledge upon you to prepare you for greater responsibility and upward movement. In contrast, a coaching relationship is a partnership which draws on the wisdom and the knowledge of both parties. The coach does not have an agenda other than what his client wants.

"OK, I understand, but what application does it have to my business world?"

Executive coach

is the term most frequently used to refer to coaches who work with businesses, professionals or in your case, medical practices. In essence, instead of two parties, there are three---the company, the client and the coach. The leaders of the most successful companies recognize that the attraction, development, motivation and retention of highly talented people are the biggest contributors to maximizing the company's success. They see the engagement of a coach as a proactive, positive way to help an employee, most often a manager or a professional, reach certain goals, change some behaviors, or develop specific management competencies. The employee agrees to these expectations and to working with a coach; and the employer engages the coach for the employee. The confidentiality of the coaching conversation remains sacrosanct; the employer is notified only if the employee is not participating.

In the business arena, a coach is sometimes referred to as a consultant. While there are some similarities, as importantly, there are some key differences. A consultant brings expertise, and thus answers to the proposed question or challenge. Typically, he then leaves the company with a report and recommendations to implement. A coach has expertise and answers; however, he works with you to identify the answers that will work best for the company and then stays through the implementation steps to ensure the changes materialize and the results are realized.

"So an executive coach can help me improve the performance of my people and thus, my bottom line?"

Yes, executive coaching is an investment in human capital just like traditional training and education programs. In fact, coaching and training frequently go hand in hand and studies have shown that doing so improves productivity 88% versus 22% with training alone. (Public Personnel Management, Winter 1997 v26 n4 p4610) The coaching assists his client in overcoming the obstacles that otherwise would prevent him from inculcating the imparted knowledge. Humans are creatures of habit, and we all know that breaking habits and embracing new ones is a great challenge. A coach helps us get out of our own way, so that we can reach for and accomplish greater things.

"You know in my practice, our focus is on teamwork. How does an executive coach help with that?"

Actually the principles applied to coaching individuals also apply to coaching groups or teams of people. A coach can assist a team in optimizing the communication amongst the members and maximizing the synergy of the group. As a result, performance and outcomes are maximized-which is critical in today's world of declining reimbursements and increasing malpractice premiums. Especially with teams, coaching helps shorten the learning and the doing curves, so minimizing the investment of time and expenses while optimizing results.

"Gosh, I am now thinking that I would really enjoy working with a coach."

Actually, many executives/CEOs work with coaches for they are frequently the "lone man on the totem pole". Being a practice manager means you are the "lone man," with many unofficial "bosses" -that is a huge challenge to navigate alone. Some of your physicians may feel the same way. A coach gives you someone to bounce ideas off of; express concerns and fears; brainstorm ways of handling difficult issues; role play difficult conversations; etc. Using a coach actually helps reduce your stress. Of course you have colleagues and others that assist you, but the differentiating factor for a coach is that he does not have an agenda, or a "stake in the game", and thus, is all about you.

"How do I learn more or find a coach?"

The International Coaching Federation,, is the recognized organization that most professional coaches belong to. The site has more information about coaching as well as a list of coaches by area. The nice thing about coaching is that the most common medium of delivery is the phone. Majority of coaches offer a free introductory session, and are truly interested in educating others about coaching. You can also download a handbook on executive coaching at

Janet Crawford MBA, MHA is CEO of Tiberius Enterprises, Inc. and an Executive Coach. She has a heartfelt connection to the medical profession, having worked as a healthcare administrator and practice manager in her previous life. She can be reached at 540-342-2844 or, and the company's website is

Originally published in Virginia Medical Group Management Association newsletter, Vol. 6, No.1 Winter 2005

Janet Crawford holds a BA, Baylor University (1982) & MBA/MHA, University of Missouri (1984).As an Executive Coach, Professional Speaker & author, her mission is to help individuals & organizations maximize their return on human capital-managing human behaviors for optimal outcomes.

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