Physician coaching refers, of course, to the coaching of physicians. In this field, a coach may or may not have a medical background, however. Though relatively few physicians are also coaches, the number of professionals with training in both areas is growing. In this article, we will explore the process of coaching and how it benefits physicians.

What is Coaching?

The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as an alliance between an experienced, professionally trained coach and the participant in “a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires the participant to maximize personal and professional potential.” Coaching is designed to facilitate both the exploration and development of personal and/or professional goals, as well as the creation and implementation of a strategy for achieving those goals.

“A coach facilitates behavior change by empowering the client to self-discover values, resources, and strategies that are individualized and meaningful. The client is the expert in navigating his/her own life, based upon personal preferences and past experiences.”—National Board of Health and Wellness Coaching

What Coaching is Not

Regardless of the coach’s professional background, coaching is not professional advice nor health, medical, counseling, or therapy services. If your coach has a unique skill set or professional background, you may ask them to consult with you, either during or separately from your coaching session.

“The coach’s primary role is NOT that of a content expert or educator who diagnoses, advises, or instructs the client on what to do.”—National Board of Health and Wellness Coaching

Coaching is also distinct from mentorship. Mentorship is a relationship where, “one individual who is more knowledgeable and experienced guides a less knowledgeable and less experienced individual…”. ¹ The fundamental philosophy of coaching, on the other hand, is that the client is the expert.

Physician Coaching Can Help Alleviate Burnout

Physician coaching has been proven to help alleviate burnout.¹ Given that approximately 44% of physicians suffer from burnout³, the potential benefits of coaching are substantial for both individuals and organizations.

In the pilot study by Dyrbye, et. al¹, 88 physicians who received professional coaching evidenced significant reductions in emotional exhaustion and overall symptoms of burnout. Study participants also experienced improvements in overall quality of life and resilience. All this after receiving a total of just 3.5 hours of coaching by a professional coach.

Session themes for physician coaching often focus on professional fulfillment, leadership development, improving efficiency, self-care, cultivating community, and integrating personal and professional life.¹ Some argue that coaching is an extravagant cost for healthcare providers; however, the cost of physician turnover is incomparably greater. The cost of provider turnover is a staggering but mitigable cost to organizations. In fact, the cost of replacing a single healthcare provider is roughly double or triple the provider’s salary.2

How much is your well-being and professional fulfillment, or that of your colleagues, worth?

“Medical training emphasizes perfectionism, denial of personal vulnerability, and delayed gratification … Set in a professional culture that stigmatizes weakness and self-care, these factors contribute to burnout.”—Gazelle, Liebschutz, & Riess3

The Power of Camaraderie

As a physician myself, I did not know what coaching was until I discovered it by chance. At the time, I was working in a hospital where the chair of the department sponsored a pilot coaching program for a select number of faculty. Given the cost of coaching, this was exceptionally kind of her, not to mention savvy. This woman understood the value of supporting her staff to enhance their well-being and professional development. I was grateful to have her as a leader; she truly appreciated her faculty.

Our faculty coaching group met with a professional coach for 2 hours monthly for 9 months, and we each participated in an additional one-on-one coaching session every month. By the end of the program, I found that we had all transformed on two levels: individually and as a group.  Each coaching session provided a space of psychological safety, a place of community. I connected deeply with the other faculty members in the room, people with whom I’d never have interacted on this level otherwise. We shared trust, vulnerability, and acceptance. I was so inspired by this experience that I wanted to do a similar coaching session for others; eventually, I even became a coach myself. Camaraderie brings support and hope to even the most stressful of environments.

Summary and Next Steps

Here are the main takeaways about physician coaching:

  • It is designed to facilitate the exploration and development of personal and/or professional goals, as well as to help you create and implement a strategy for achieving those goals.
  • It is an effective tool in to enhance professional fulfillment, promote personal resilience, cultivate community, and mitigate physician burnout.


Remember, coaching only augments your own success. Find a physician coach today.