Coaching matters: Want to keep improving? Know what your best self looks like

November 16, 2021 | Author: Royal College Staff

In this article:

  • Why physicians, like athletes, should consider peer-coaching as a way to become better.
  • The difference between teaching, mentoring and coaching — they’re not the same!
  • How coaching can benefit patients and physicians, by reducing the risk of burnout and improving performance.
  • A new initiative the Royal College is planning around peer support.

Consider Usain Bolt.

“He is the fastest man in the world,” says Jane Lea, MD, FRCSC, an otolaryngologist at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. “And even after he became the fastest, he still had a coach to maintain peak performance […] he was still trying to improve.”

Dr. Lea, a former national-level athlete, says that coaching of her athletic performance intensified the more elite she became; the opposite, however, was true in her surgical career.

Since completing medical school and specialty training, “all means of performance enhancement and feedback disappeared.”

But research shows that practising physicians can greatly benefit from a coach-coachee peer relationship.

“We are good but we could be better,” says Dr. Lea, “and a coach can help us raise the bar and continue to improve after training.”

The roots of coaching in health care

Coaching is not new; though, it is becoming more accepted in health care circles.

“Coaching is meant to make great physicians better,” says Sofia Valanci, MD, PhD, a general surgeon and program advisor, Continuing Professional Development (CPD), at the Royal College.

Even so, there is some lingering stigma with the term “coaching” — a sense of inferiority, skill deficiency, punishment or remedial training. Some doctors are resistant to feedback from peers, when they are no longer a trainee. In this way, coaching may be uncomfortable for them.

But it is worth considering the benefits.

“We need to see coaching as an educational opportunity to get better rather than being concerned about criticism or judgment,” says Jay Kaplan, MD, FACEP, medical director of Care Transformation for LCMC Health in New Orleans, and a clinical associate professor at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.

The growth mindset that goes along with coaching has many positive impacts. These include potential improvements in technical and nontechnical skills, service level and patient outcomes, as well as a physicians’ own sense of wellness and connection to the profession.

“The main tenant of coaching is that it unlocks our own potential to maximize our performance,” says Dr. Valanci. This only happens with intention: clear goals, active participation and tailoring to previous experiences.

She explains, “First of all, we need to know what our best performance is; what our best self looks like […] Then, we need to get our data; we need to set our personalized goals; and, once we have those goals, then we can work with a peer to adjust, to reflect, to get feedback and to deliberately practise and change what we’re meaning to change.”

What makes coaching different from teaching or mentorship?

Teaching provides information and answers. Mentoring is based on experience and guidance. Coaching, in contrast, enables learners to discover their own answers through self-directed learning.

  • Coaches are not seeking to give answers; rather, they are co-learners.
  • Coaches actively listen with the intent of asking reflective questions.
  • They support goal-oriented problem-solving.

Dr. Lea, who helped set up a peer-to-peer surgical coaching program at her hospital, says peer coaching is “when individuals work together in a more equal relationship to improve, based on their own predetermined areas of need.”

For example, at her hospital, there are several coach-coachee pairs. Each pair works together to set goals for the coachee. The coach then observes their coachee in the OR. Afterwards, the coachee evaluates their performance before debriefing with their coach. Their coach provides them with feedback to improve their performance or to support change.

The benefits of coaching relationships — ranging from strength-spotting, enhanced sense of personal achievement, improved work satisfaction and reduced burnout — have been numerous.

There is a lot of potential to integrate coaching into CPD modalities. Unlike traditional learning that is effective for knowledge gain, coaching can help target long-term behavioural changes or the improvement of clinical outcomes.

Says Dr. Kaplan, “Most of us have financial advisors to take care of our assets so that they grow. Most of us do not have well-being coaches who help us be well and stay well, and help us grow.”

Royal College to develop a peer support program related to coaching

While still in the beginning phases, a new coaching/mentorship program is being discussed at the Royal College. Its aim is to develop, train and support Fellows in their journeys to become coaches, mentors and supervisors. All Fellows who are interested in participating will be able to do so.

If you have questions or are interested in helping the Royal College develop this new initiative, please reach out to Dr. Valanci:

MOC credit opportunity

This article was based off learnings from a recent Royal College webinar. Watch the 1-hour recording for more on coaching and its positive effects from panelists Dr. Valanci, Dr. Lea and Dr. Kaplan.

Link to the webinar recording

Coaching as a new CPD modality — why?


Current CPD modalities are effective but don’t have the desired impact on long-term practice changes. Recently, coaching has been proposed as a way to improve physician performance.

How to claim MOC credit for watching the video

If you watch this recording, you can enter it under Section 2: Podcast, Audio, Video for 0.5 credits. If you engage in additional learning stimulated by this recording, you can document the time spent on that learning under Section 2: Personal Learning Project (PLP) for 2 credits per hour.

Already engaged in a coaching or mentoring relationship?

If you assess peers and receive feedback on your peer support, claim under Section 3: Assessment – Direct Observation (3 credits/hour). If you do not receive feedback on your peer support, claim under Section 2: Systems Learning – Peer Review (15 credits/year)

If peers assess you, claim credit under either Direct observation (3 credits/hour), Practice assessment (3 credits/hour) or Feedback on teaching (3 credits/hour) — in accordance with the context in which you were assessed.

When claiming credits for this activity please describe it as “peer support, peer coaching, or peer mentorship.”


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