Physicians Need Coaches, Too

Nearly every great tennis player has a coach.  Singers, executives, and even applicants trying to get into medical school have coaches today.

General surgeon Dr. Atul Gawande says practicing physicians need coaches, too (New Yorker, October 3, 2011).  He got a coach when he felt his career had reached its peak.  After eight years in practice, he felt that his surgical skills were no longer improving.  That’s when he asked a highly respected, retired surgeon to look over his shoulder in the operating room, then give him advice on what he might do to improve his performance.  Dr. Gawande is convinced that having a “coach” has made him a better doctor.

In medicine, the presumption is that, after a certain point, you no longer need instruction. You finished your residency.  You’re done.  The coaching model holds that “no matter how well-prepared people are in their formative years, few can achieve and maintain their best performance on their own,” says Dr. Gawande.
 
Coaching is not limited to the operating room.  Perhaps a coach could help us improve our communication skills.  How to give bad news to patients.  How to communicate more effectively with our peers.  How to handle the “difficult” patient.
 
The possible benefits? Fewer malpractice suits.  Better patient compliance.  Maybe even more satisfaction from doing what we do for a living.
 
Ken Teufel is the Medical Director for Interim Physicians
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