Always Room for Improvement: Coaching in Healthcare, Teaching, and More

An article in The New Yorkerby Dr. Atul Gawande looks at how coaches can help improve performance in any number of careers…from the obvious ones like sports and entertainment to some that may not be so obvious such as teaching and healthcare. After talking with and observing individuals who have coaches in, for example, music and teaching, Dr. Gawande decided to ask a former colleague and mentor to be his coach…to observe him during surgery and give him feedback afterwards. He found that some seemingly small changes that were recommended by his coach could make a big difference. Dr. Gawande has seen his complication rate go down and the efficiency of his operations improve. As Dr. Gawande writes, it is awkward and can be embarrassing to have a coach observing you and seeing your mistakes but it is worth it.

Think about any profession, including your own, and how a coach could be helpful. For that matter, think about other parts of your life and how a coach could be helpful (as embarrassing as it would be to have my “mistakes” pointed out, I could see the benefits of having a coach give me tips on my parenting skills!). So why not encourage the use of coaches in health care?

When Dr. Gawande spoke with other surgeons about the use of coaches in health care they would often respond by saying they know someone who could use a coach, but they rarely said that they themselves could use one. And when a patient noticed Dr. Gawande’s coach and asked about him, the patient seemed uneasy when Dr. Gawande said he was a coach trying to help him improve. We like to think that doctors don’t need to improve, and certainly not when they are at the point of doing surgery on you or a loved one, but everybody can improve their work, and doctors are no exception.

Coaching teachers has become a more widespread practice. Could coaching surgeons and other medical providers be next?
-Deb Wachenheim

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One Response to Always Room for Improvement: Coaching in Healthcare, Teaching, and More

  1. As a physician who life coaches physicians, I am grateful to Atul Gawande for shedding light on this phenomenon. Although the New Yorker piece focuses on coaching to improve performance, there is also a strong case to be made for coaching that focuses on helping physicians lead more satisfied lives. Although well compensated financially, physicians are amongst the most dissatisfied professionals, prone to workaholism and self-neglect, and with a suicide rate two to four times that of the general public. Life coaching can lead to increased life fulfillment for this group of deserving professionals. It is confidential and does not involve dredging up the past the way psychotherapy does. While performance coaching benefits patients, life coaching can greatly improve quality of life for physicians.
    Gail Gazelle, MD, FACP

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