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News & Press: Annual Conference Speaker Spotlights

Physician Coaching: Why and How

Wednesday, February 5, 2020   (0 Comments)
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Written for AAOE by Jeffrey Smith, MD, FACS, CPC, Orthopaedic Traumatologist at SurgeonMasters, Orthopaedic Trauma and Fracture Specialists

Learn more by attending Jeffrey Smith's AAOE 2020 Annual Conference Session, "Physician Coaching: Why and How".

Surgeon Coaching. Experience the Benefits

There are many misconceptions about what surgeon coaching is, how it works, and how surgeons and other healthcare professionals can benefit. There are also misapplications of coaching, where it is applied as coercive and remedial. In healthcare, coaching skills can be applied in numerous areas including technical and “soft” skills. More interestingly, coaching skills can be utilized by leaders, physicians, surgeons, and anyone who wants to help themselves and others be their best selves.

Coaching has not been widely adopted in healthcare to help surgeons practice their best. Mentoring and consulting are often confused for coaching. Both can play important roles in healthcare, yet neither of them are good substitutes for coaching. In this article, I will explain what coaching is, describe key principles in coaching, and explain why it should be more widely used as a tool to elicit peak performance in surgeons. 

Defining Surgeon Coaching:

Here’s how I define physician coaching:

Physician coaching is a collaborative, insightful, and dynamic process designed to bring out the best in the physician.

Let’s dispel some common misconceptions about coaching.

      Mentoring is Coaching -  WRONG

Mentoring is another interaction that might sound the same as coaching. It is not. A mentor is someone you can lean on because they have gone through a similar situation, and the mentee can follow a similar path. We often use mentors as a way to model our own behavior in a way that is beneficial to our careers. Coaching is different from mentoring because there is no implied hierarchical order, and as coaches we should remain objective and detached from the chosen path forward.

      Consulting is Coaching -  WRONG

Consulting involves giving advice. While consultants may have expertise in some areas - just like many coaches - they often feel they have all of the answers. This is where coaching differs. Coaching understands that most of the answers lie with the coachee. Coaches should not be the ones trying to “solve problems,” especially since many problems don’t have any or a single solution.

While there can be similarities or overlap with mentoring and consulting, 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. The coachee drives the relationship, learning process, and end-game.

Key Coaching Principles:

There are fundamental coaching principles that are key to understanding coaching relationships and how coaching works. These include:

      Listening -  The most basic skill is active listening, where we attempt to understand, repeat key points, and ask insightful questions.

      Encouragement - Be positive! A positive attitude helps others work through the multiple missteps or challenges of achieving one's goals.

      Nonjudgement - Coaches attempt to remove THEMSELVES from the situation. This is about listening and supporting the other individual without judgment of right or wrong. This is the toughest one for most of us!

      Accountability - While the Coach is accountable to their process of coaching, the Coachee is accountable to almost everything else.

      Confidentiality -  The Coaching relationship should inherently expect a great deal of trust, and still trust can grow or wane. Whether related to our mental, emotional, or physical challenges, the Coachee needs to know that all within the relationship is confidential AND that the relationship is driven only by the Coachee's goals and agenda.

These principles are the foundation upon which great surgeon coaching is built.

Experience the Benefits of Coaching:

Now you (hopefully) have a solid understanding of what surgeon coaching is, how it differs from mentoring and consulting, and appreciate a few key principles in coaching relationships. I truly believe coaching can play an integral role in the continued success of individual surgeons, and the healthcare industry at large, if we dispel common myths. Instead of remedial or corrective, coaching should be seen as an individual’s path to continued success, even greater surgical performance, and a feeling of support in what is an increasingly demanding profession. 



About the Speaker:



 Dr. Jeffrey Smith is a fellowship trained orthopaedic         traumatologist with over 20 years of experience in academic and private practice. He is also a surgeon coach, educator, speaker, blogger, and podcaster in physician wellness, resilience training, and burnout prevention.



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