In decades past, using a career coach was reserved for top-level business executives. Now thousands of workers, regardless of their leadership level or industry, are employing coaches to help navigate their career paths. Coaching has become increasingly popular for professionals who are looking for new jobs, facing challenges in their current position, or are working towards promotion. Career coaching typically incorporates methodology from both consulting and therapy. Consulting methods used may consist of giving advice, setting goals, and determining the right career path. Therapy methods used may include exploring subjective experiences, tackling difficult issues, and focusing on individual behavioral change.

Due to the rapid changes happening within the healthcare system – and the increased pressures on doctors – physician burnout is rampant and there is little time for self-development. Working with a career coach can help physicians successfully navigate their specific challenges, whether that includes overcoming burnout, adjusting work-life balance or developing the skills needed to be a successful leader.

As a result of using a physician coach, I have been able to strengthen and develop skillsets that have proved invaluable to my work as a cardiologist and Partner at St. Louis Heart and Vascular. My colleague, Dr. Sangeeta Shah, a cardiologist at Ochsner Health System, also uses a physician coach. We discovered coaching through different avenues but have both experienced valuable benefits as a result. We sat down together to answer some commonly-asked questions about how and why we decided to use a physician coach.

Q: What made you start thinking about using a physician coach?

Dr. Singh: I was first introduced to the idea of a using a coach by an acquaintance. She was extremely poised and mentioned that she had made the switch from being a high school geometry teacher to an entrepreneur with the help of a personal coach. I met her at a time when I was experiencing a lot of change, including starting a new chapter for the Missouri Women in Cardiology, seeing my eldest leave for college, and being appointed Chief of Staff. I was doing more work in the management of our practice, and I felt the need for someone or something to assist me in navigating all these transitions.

Dr. Shah: A few years ago, in a semi-academic environment, I was doing my best to balance a clinical volume, academic endeavors, and family. I had not hit a wall, I was not in despair, and I was not burnt out. But I did not feel a sense of contentment. The obstacles in my career were no longer challenges I welcomed. I found myself asking questions: What does it mean to be successful? Should I just feel successful and content with what I have already accomplished? Is there a new skillset I need to obtain, like an MBA? Do I need to find a new job? I have to admit, I spent time looking at careers of colleagues, mentors, and leaders within my institution to define success. I started having conversations with my priest about the framework of meaningful work. I also reached out to my mentor after several years of casual “hellos” at conferences. My question to him was, “Where should I go from here? What picture of success should I be painting?”

Q: Were you previously aware that physicians were using coaches?

Dr. Singh: I wasn’t aware! I was an investor in a female-focused co-working space and was introduced to my coach through that network. I just happened to connect with her at a pivotal point in my career.

Dr. Shah: No. I was aware of mentors and their role in my career development, but I was not familiar with a physician coach. I was introduced to the idea by a physician whose enthusiasm I remember to this day. He came into my office and told me his story. It started when he won a coaching session at a fundraiser. The timing was perfect – it was shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck, the burdens at work had increased, and he needed some assistance with the changing landscape. He explained how the coach had helped him understand himself, his environment, and his colleagues. Coaching afforded him great personal and career growth over the last 13 years.

Q: Why did you think you could benefit from a coach?

Dr. Singh: I was on a fast-track to leadership positions within the American College of Cardiology (ACC), and I wanted to bolster some skill sets that I didn’t use day-to-day in my practice.

Dr. Shah: I had reached a point in my career where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. I needed some help clarifying what success meant to me, and what I needed to do to attain it.

Q: How frequently do you see your coach?

Dr. Singh: One hour once a month.

Dr. Shah: 30 minutes every week, over the phone.

Q: What is the most valuable benefit you’ve received from coaching?

Dr. Singh: It helps to keep me on track and ensure I’m making the progress I want. Every month, I’m forced to stop and think about my priorities and how I’m going to address them with my coach. The fact that I’m spending time clarifying these concerns is perhaps just as valuable as the coaching itself!

Dr. Shah: Coaching has given me the tools I needed to define my picture of success. Every week, before my coaching session, I take time to stop, review the week, and think about the skillset I want to develop. The wonderful part is that I have someone who gets to know me and develops my skills in a way I can understand and implement.

Q: What have you learned from your coaching experience?

Dr. Singh: I’ve learned that it is infinitely valuable to define what I need to do, and my barriers to doing those things, at regular intervals. I’ve come to understand the difference between position and influence, and how to recognize what I can influence. I’ve also learned that when you have authentic conversations with professionals outside of the medical field, your network quadruples—I’m connected with many other professionals in the business community now.

Dr. Shah: I completely agree with Dr. Singh. In addition, I learned two important lessons: One, if

something is important to my professional success, own it and be the voice; and two, never

sacrifice humility at the expense of honesty.

Q: Why do you think coaching is valuable for physicians?

Dr. Singh: So often, I see physicians getting leadership coaching when they are in—or being primed for—a leadership position, but I think coaching is valuable for all physicians, whether leadership is in their future or not. It’s helpful for all physicians to get an outside perspective on self-confidence, work challenges, and more. I want physicians to know that coaches exist and that utilizing them can be life changing!

Dr. Shah: Success is not becoming like someone else. We’re all familiar with fitness coaches who help us stay physically healthy. We should consider physician coaches not only to help us reach our highest potential but also to help us navigate our work environments by understanding our teams and processes.

In conclusion

Physicians may feel they don’t have the time for career coaching, but even short meetings, whether in-person, over the phone, or via video conference, can offer significant benefits. Studies show that utilizing a personal coach can decrease physician burnout by increasing resilience, self-awareness, and self-care. Career coaching is also extremely beneficial for physician leaders. In today’s healthcare industry, effective leaders must draw on emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills to successfully navigate the complexities of management; career coaches can assist physicians in developing these “soft” skills. Regardless of whether physicians are on a leadership track or not, career coaches can be a valuable resource in attaining personal and professional success.

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