Reflecting on the Power of Coaching

This past weekend SurgeonMasters hosted its inaugural coaching conference, Harnessing the Power of Surgeon Coaching. It was a great opportunity to further explore the untapped power of coaching in medicine. There are many reasons to engage in coaching. Maybe you want to improve your communication skills with patients. Perhaps you’re trying to advance your leadership abilities to exert greater influence in your hospital. No matter what your goals are, coaching can help. In this article, I will outline what coaching is, how it works, and where I see it going.

What Is Coaching

There are many models and styles of coaching - and they’re not all the same. However, in essence, coaching is a process that helps bring out the best in you. When defining something it’s often good to start by talking about what it is NOT.  Regardless of the challenges coaches work with, the same is true across the board - coaching is often misconstrued for something it is not, including:

  • Sports Coaching - Often this is where our mind goes first - the image of the sports coach on the sideline barking orders. Sports coaching is focused on win-lose scenarios, and less on individual progress toward self-define goals. When coaching is combined with many other skills, such as teaching, managing, and more, you can create a very successful leader. When you look at the portion of their leadership that helps athletes reach their maximum potential in competition and in life - that’s coaching.

  • Consulting - Consultants have an agenda and provide answers. They are experts in their field, just like many coaches. Consulting relationships usually end before implementing action plans, and rarely is there an ongoing relationship that allows for further adjustments to the plan. Coaching understands that the answers lie within the coachee and the longer relationship allows the process to be conveyed and practiced.

  • Mentoring - Having someone to lean on that has done it before and to model your behavior after is beneficial to your career. There is typically a hierarchy in this relationship skewed toward the mentor over the mentee. In coaching, there is more objectivity and detached involvement from the coach, and the understanding that the coachee will not necessarily do what you would have done in the same situation.

  • Therapy - A therapist functions to help clients fix problems and overcome issues. Coaches try to refocus “problems” as opportunities and don’t practice mental health without the proper training, credentials, and licensing. Therapy is often rooted in the past, whereas coaching focuses on the present and future.

It’s important to frame surgeon and physician coaching properly. Physician and surgeon coaching is more akin to executive coaching, and involves a process of reflection, goal setting, and incremental adjustments in behavior to accomplish self-defined goals.


How It Works

Coaching moves ideas, plans, and steps forward. Atul Gawande has been advocating and observing this concept in action for several years. In describing the most effective coaches, he states "mainly, they observe, they judge, and they guide." "Good coaches speak with credibility, make a personal connection, and focus little on themselves... listen more than they talk...They are 100% present in the conversation....They parcel out their observations carefully." Coaching can help you reach your maximum potential in your career. Alternatively, you might want to learn coaching skills to apply in various aspects of your surgical practice or leadership position.

Where I see it Going

There are endless applications of coaching and coaching skills. In the future, I envision coaching skills being taught in medical school and training. Future leaders will rely on coaching skills to bring the best out of each member of their surgical team. Doctors will utilize coaching skills to instill a sense of resilience in their patients on the road to recovery. And surgeons will have an empathic peer listener to whom they can go for help processing a difficult outcome.

SurgeonMasters is building a community of surgeons and physicians interested in learning and applying coaching techniques to help surgeons and physicians manage the ups and downs of a successful career in medicine. A coaching mindset and skills are powerful tools. They enhance our ability for to help ourselves and others. If you would like to learn more about coaching and joining a peer support community of like-minded surgeons and physicians email