The benefits of coaching have long been shown in research, yet is widely underused in the physician community.  For decades, executive coaching has been used in the corporate world for executives, and their teams to increase efficiency and performance. Business and marketing coaching frequently used by small business professionals helps grow and expand their business. Wellness and life coaching is frequently used by individuals to improve balance and well-being.  Relationship coaching has been even used to create better relationships and dating experience.  Given its wide use and application in a variety of industries, how is it that coaching is just now becoming a tool that physicians are using? 

Why are we so behind the times in this respect?

If you think about it, there are many ways about our training that have conditioned us to cling to our old ways, or “the way we do things around here”.  When I was in medical school, we learned Pathology out of Robbins. That was 20 years ago, and as far as I know, that is still the medical school’s primary text.  There are the teachers that “teach from the textbook”, and the teachers, that you “know you must be in class for”.   We are taught to do history and physicals the way our predecessors did them.  We are taught as medical students how to “be a good student” and what constitutes “a lazy student”.  These are “lessons” passed down from generation to generation as if in a fraternity. We have resisted the Electronic Medical Record.   We resist newly emerging areas of medicine (i.e. Integrative Medicine was looked down upon for years despite the research for effectiveness). Even most “new studies” build evidence for the usage of the same old drugs and same old tools that have been used for decades when there are countless new and more effective options.

The bottom line is that we are deeply conditioned. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing necessarily (the way we are taught), it is this training that lays the groundwork for us to become confident, skilled physicians.

How is being conditioned even relevant?

As physicians part of our conditioning leads to this “lone ranger”, “I can handle it all by myself” attitude can which can be a double edge sword.  Being conditioned to be “a superhuman that never shows weakness” is one of the main underlying causes of overwhelm, stress, and anxiety that eventually leads to burnout.  I remember clearly the price I almost paid as a second year resident being a “lone ranger”.  I knew something was wrong because I was beginning to feel disconnected, numb, and deeply depressed. I was a high performing and well liked resident. My attending physicians and advisor appreciated my high work ethic and commitment to excellent patient care, and my interns loved my teaching and leadership style.

To anyone else, I was the perfect resident.  Inside, however, I felt like a dying robot. That conditioning, however had me push on silently.  “Get it together, you got this” I would say to myself. Yet, the night I realized I did not “have it together” was the night I found myself staring down the barrel of a bottle of Percocet wondering if this was the solution to my misery.  Fortunately, I did what most don’t do…I reached out.   Over the coming years, I pursued multiple avenues of healing, and it was when I discovered coaching, that I knew I was onto something. 

But how many doctors never reach out…And why?

There is a stigma that gets attached to a physician when they openly admit to being in distress.  The fear of that stigma is what has physicians suffer in silence. This is particularly where coaching can provide a safe space for physicians to openly express and deal with the pressures and stresses of being a doctor in this era of medicine.  In most addiction recovery programs, there is a slogan: “Admitting the problem is the first step to recovery.”  While burnout is more of a dilemma and not so much a problem, I believe the same holds true here. 

Why coaching is so practical? 

Coaching is not therapy. It is collaboration between a trained certified coach and the client. Therefore, it is possible to get around the stigma of the “broken doctor.”

However, while it is not therapy, coaching can offer a platform for both work and life issues to be addressed, allowing for transformational results to be produced in all areas of life.  Moreover, coaching can be effectively used in conjunction with other mental health therapies such as psychotherapy or psychiatric medical management.

Coaching can improve performance professionally and personally.  This is why corporate executives and business professionals have long been taking advantage of this service.

Coaching is a legitimate use of professional development funds.  Whether you are hiring a coach for strictly professional reasons, or for more work/life balance, the fees paid for coaching services can be written off as a business expense and are a legitimate use of professional development or CME funds.  In some cases your organization will fully fund (or reimburse your for) your sessions if you can make the case for how your receiving these services could potentially benefit them.

The bottom line is that we are missing the opportunity to take advantage of a service that has been proving effective for other professionals for decades, while we have continued to suffer in silence.  If we are truly committed to empowering change in healthcare, we must be willing to first deal with our own “stuff” and take responsibility for the steps needed to correct them.

Be A Part of the Solution.  If you like it, Please Share it.  And if you would like to learn more about how we create breakthroughs for physicians, visit Maiysha Clairborne MD is an integrative medicine physician and physician wellness coach, and is the author of The Wellness Blueprint and Eat Your Disease Away.