I recently had the very real pleasure of speaking with Dr. Eric Larson, an anesthesiologist in Grand Rapids, MI, and host of The Paradocs podcast. If you haven’t heard our conversation about unexpected outcomes, malpractice litigation, and physician well-being, give it a listen here and let me know what you think here.
If you have heard it, then you will know that I am working to create an array of resources to support and educate physicians, other healers, and healers-to-be. As one step among many, I’ve recently begun coaching. Supporting colleagues through their recovery after a patient’s hard outcome and malpractice litigation is my focus.
Today, let’s take just a few minutes to clarify exactly what a coach does and might be able to do for you or someone you know. Please reach out to me at any time if this is a concept you’d like to explore.
What do coaches do?
A coach and client engage around very specific issues, concerns, and goals.
Helping physicians understand the emotions and responses associated with a patient's unfortunate outcome and manage the stress of malpractice litigation as well as the potential for growth is my passion. By putting this very human experience in the context of the whole of medical practice, clients reframe its meaning in their life.
I hope to see clients regain their footing, rebuild shaken confidence, and come through litigation with their heart, soul, and integrity intact.
I operate from the assumption that my clients are resourceful, creative, intelligent people. Their innate gifts provide ample ground for survival and growth. My aim is to provide them information and help them tap into those resources, allowing them to transform one of a physician’s hardest life experiences — a malpractice suit — into a period of growth, impossible though that may seem.
I am a thoughtful physician-colleague who has been there and has explored this experience from numerous angles. Like an athletic coach, my goal is to support clients, help them define their personal best, cheer them on in victory, and explore together the best way to move forward when failure gets in the way.
This helps clients develop the frame of mind to eventually thrive despite these challenges and ultimately heal fully, even when full healing involves growth.
How does a coach differ from a therapist?
Last week, I shared a guest post by a physician in California on the benefits of seeking out a counselor or psychotherapist.
I want to be very clear that there are key differences between a coach and a therapist.
Just as an athletic coach does not repair torn ACLs, my role as coach is not to treat illness in my clients. I do not function as their physician nor in a diagnostic capacity when I coach.
I bring a shared personal and professional experience which many therapists do not have. However, they possess a skillset in the management of overwhelming anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, any of which may plague physicians in the throes of a malpractice lawsuit.
If it becomes apparent in the course of coaching that the client is experiencing PTSD, anxiety, or depression which interferes with the physician's effectiveness at work and joy in life, the client may decide to step things up by adding someone with that expertise to their team short- or long-term.
How might coaching benefit me?
The experience of an unforeseen bad outcome for a patient and of medical malpractice litigation is intensely painful and deeply isolating for many physicians. It can be difficult to know where to turn for support for varied reasons.
First, excellent defense lawyers often advise their clients to “speak to no one” regarding the details of the case, lest that person be subpoenaed. Physician-defendants who find themselves unsure as to exactly what that means may benefit from talking with someone who can assist, all the while with an eye toward appropriate boundaries.
Second, many physician-defendants attempt to compartmentalize the stress of litigation as a coping mechanism. This desire together with concerns about their reputation leave many uncomfortable discussing the challenges they face with co-workers.
What’s more, colleagues simply may not know how to be supportive when it comes to an experience they fear themselves. Conversation with a litigation stress management coach after hours provides the opportunity to consider matters when outside the environment of direct patient care.
Third, the process of litigation and recovery can be prolonged and unique to each individual. Even the most caring spouse, friend, or colleague may not realize that it can take months to years for difficult emotions to heal or the legal case to resolve. For physician couples, special stresses arise when litigation for one brings up fears or hard memories for the other.
These gaps can leave the physician-defendant feeling more alone than ever, or pressured to rush through the healing process faster than is actually possible. A space for peer-support as frequently or infrequently and for as short or long a period as a client desires can really help!
What does coaching cost? How can I assess its value?
In every arena, one-on-one coaching with a professional represents an investment of time and money. For the client who is committed to the coaching process, however, the return on the investment can be life-changing.
My Coaching page spells out fees and other particulars. (There is scholarship assistance available for trainees.)
The expense is tax-deductible under the category of Professional Development, and represents an appropriate use of CME/Professional Development benefits. In some instances, hospitals or indemnity carriers may even be persuaded to cover the cost, insofar as coaching has the potential to make you a more sound defendant and a happier doctor to boot.
While coaching represents a dollar investment, its value resides in helping you to protect other, much more valuable investments, things vital to the quality of your present and future life. More information and less isolation can help you to protect:
your health -- physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual;
your most important family and professional relationships;
your love of medicine and ability to practice with confidence;
and by extension, your income for years to come.
I suggest that you assess coaching’s value by asking yourself what you might gain from it. If you, like many, are struggling due to a malpractice lawsuit or unexpected outcome, I will offer you information and tools to make things easier and less isolating, benefiting you both at work and at home.
The literature demonstrates that it is possible to transform these very difficult experiences into a crucible for growth, and I am here to help you do just that.
If exploring the possibility interests you, read more about my coaching program here, OR reach out to me here to set up an initial exploratory, absolutely-no-hard-sell-consultation, free of charge, where we can jointly contemplate whether I can be of help to you.