Coach or Mentor?

Coach or Mentor?

What does it mean to be a good physician coach? It takes an adequate mix of coach and mentor. Doctors need coaches to provide them with a map of experience that will help guide them through uncharted waters into a safe harbor. Learn how Dr. Bell defines what it takes to be a physician coach and how he puts those skills into practice at MD Coaches.


I had never heard the term “Life Coach” until about 2 years ago, and I must admit, it conjured up all kinds of mental images.  Who needs a guy with a whistle around his neck, carrying a clipboard, yelling at someone as they do basic tasks, like making their bed, cleaning the house, or going to the supermarket?  Personal trainers have been around for some time, helping “motivate” people with their fitness regimens, so I assumed a Life Coach was something similar, only beyond the walls of a gym.  I did not think there would be much value for me, an independent problem solver who has never lacked for motivation in completing tasks.  I also figured that Life Coaches could be a good thing for someone who needs constant prodding, but also held the opinion that people who would seek out such a service, were looking for an easy fix or for someone to solve their problems.  Having grown up playing organized sports through high school and beyond, coaches represented the final authority.  The Coach shapes the team roster on what they believe are the needs of the team, organizes practice, and makes the decisions on game day.  The players have some accountability for sure, but their input is limited and in the final analysis, the Coach gets much of either the credit or blame for, the results.  That being stated, it is the Coach who must bring out the best in his players and team.  The Coach is really a partner in the effort, and shares in the accountability.   The Coach, then, is really an Accountability Partner to each member of the team.


When I first learned about MD Coaches, I wasn’t sure what to think.  I asked myself, why would Doctors of all people need Coaches?  It seems contradictory in the sense that if any group of individuals could be classified as “Life Coaches”, it would be Doctors and therefore, the least in need of such a service.  Again, using my own experiences as a barometer, I asked why would Doctors need someone telling them what to do at this stage of their lives, especially if it is motivation they are lacking?  Doctors are among the most highly competitive group of individuals, as the process to gain admission into medical school can sometimes be described as “cutthroat”.  


What an eye-opening experience it has been for me over the past several months, as I have realized my first impressions of Coaching, especially the need among Doctors, could not have been more inaccurate.  I was recently asked a question regarding Coaching, and it was when I heard the answer coming out of my mouth, that I realized most of my misconceptions were based on the name “Life Coach”.   I explained to the person who asked me the question that I thought Mentor was a much more accurate term than Coach.  Mentoring, especially between peers, encompasses the type of relationship that Doctors go through during their post-graduate training and beyond.  We are always learning from our peers and sharing our wisdom among our colleagues.  This is part of the Hippocratic Oath and is one of the many incredible aspects of medicine, a career that encourages and expects sharing of knowledge that will benefit others.  Mentors encourage, share, and listen.  They assess and engage their peer in such a way that they promote problem solving through self-awareness and discovery.  Coaching conjures up goal attainment that comes from an “Accountability Partner”, and while coaches can also be mentors, not all mentors can be Coaches.  Coaches are employed to help identify, strategize, and progress toward goal attainment.   


In uncertain times like the ones we are living in, it is no wonder we are seeing troubling symptoms among our peers in Medicine.  Physician burnout, general unhappiness, career changes, higher than average divorce rates, and suicide are just some examples that should set off an alarm, yet in a profession that demands putting others before self, if an alarm has gone off, it has blended in with lots of other background noise.   The value of peer to peer Coaching that MD Coaches offers can be a lifeline.  Ultimately, solutions come from within, but the process of identifying issues and solving problems with a Coach, can be invaluable.  At the conclusion of my first course in undergraduate psychology, my professor addressed the class by opening a box he had brought to class.  He pulled a mirror out of the box and said to the class, “this is psychology”.   MD Coaches can be a vital Coaching service and the critical “mirror” that so many colleagues can benefit from, but do not necessarily realize is available or needed. 



To read more of Dr. Desmond Bell's blog "The Script Pad" go to

MD Coaches, LLC is a company dedicated to developing and empowering physicians to realize a greater satisfaction in their roles. Understanding the challenges and operational concerns for both physicians and hospital administrators. MD Coaches utilizes experience and coaching skills to support their physician clients in establishing strategies for positive career progression.




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