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 dream up and create an array of resources to support and educate physicians, other healers, and healers-to-be. As one step among several, I’ve recently begun to develop a coaching practice. I aim to support colleagues regarding malpractice litigation stress management and their own recovery after a patient’s hard outcome.
Having put out there that I am open to supporting my colleagues in this way, I think it’s worthwhile to take just a few minutes to clarify exactly what a coach does and might be able to do for you or someone you know who is suffering. I invite you to reach out to me at any time if this is a concept you’d like to further explore.
What exactly do coaches do?
A coach and client engage, usually one-on-one, around very specific issues, concerns, and goals. Some work on health and fitness, others career development or recovery from burnout.
My passion as a coach lies in helping physicians and other healers understand and manage the unique stresses and fears as well as the potential for positive growth associated with a patient's unfortunate outcome and/or medical malpractice litigation. I aim to help a client put their experience in the context of the whole of medical practice and if necessary, reframe its meaning in their life.
I hope to see them regain their footing, rebuild shaken confidence, and come through litigation with their heart, soul, and integrity intact.
As a coach, I operate from the assumption that my client is naturally resourceful and essentially sound. I know from experience that physicians and other healers are wonderful and intelligent people. Their innate wisdom and creativity provides ample ground for survival and growth. It is my aim to help them tap into those resources, transforming one of a physician’s hardest life experiences into something beautiful, or at least a little less ugly, impossible though that may seem.
I offer the ears and mind of a thoughtful, empathetic physician-colleague who has been there herself and has explored this experience from numerous angles. Not unlike an athletic coach, I am there to support clients, help them dust themselves off, cheer them on in victory, and explore together the best way to move forward when failure gets in the way.
I hope to see them develop the frame of mind and skills of heart which will allow them to thrive through these challenges and ultimately heal fully, even when full healing does not look like returning to exactly the person they were before.
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 perform orthopedic surgery, my role as coach is not to treat illness in my clients and I am not forming a physician-patient relationship with them nor functioning in a diagnostic capacity when I coach.
Certainly, most therapists will not have had the shared personal and professional experience which I bring to the table. However, among many things, they bring a rich, essential skillset in the recognition and management of overwhelming anxiety, symptoms suggestive of depression, and suicidal thoughts, any of which may plague physicians in the throes of a malpractice lawsuit.
In the course of coaching, a client and I may easily discover that the client is experiencing symptoms of PTSD associated with the events surrounding a patient's bad outcome. Those symptoms may even interfere with the physician's effectiveness at work and joy in life. Given that I am not trained in the treatment of psychological trauma and PTSD, that would be an excellent moment for the client to step things up by adding someone with that expertise to their team short- or long-term.
How might coaching help me?
The experience of an unforeseen bad outcome for a patient and/or of malpractice litigation is intensely painful and deeply isolating for many physicians. It can be difficult to know where to turn for support for a number of 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 or who to turn to for support 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 physicians uncomfortable discussing the challenges they face with co-workers.
Further, colleagues simply may not know how to be supportive when it comes to an experience they fear themselves. Conversation with a coach after hours provides the opportunity to consider matters 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, litigation for one may bring up fears or hard memories for the other.
These gaps may leave the person in it feeling more alone, if that were possible, or pressured to rush through the healing process faster than is actually doable. A space for conversation as frequently or infrequently and for as short or long a period as a client desires can be helpful.
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, athlete, executive, or musician who is committed to the coaching process, however, the return on the investment is immense.
My fees are currently set on a case-by-case basis, with some scholarship support available for physicians in training.
I expect that those who can afford to do so will pay me well, and hope they will derive strength and healing from our work together, and joy from supporting this project designed to benefit the entire medical community now and in the future.
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 in the meanwhile.
For coaching to be effective, it is key that both parties are fully committed to the process, and that the coach's strengths and interests align with the client's desires, needs, and goals. For those reasons, I don't just offer, but rather insist upon a first conversation at no charge during which each person can assess whether the relationship is likely to be a fruitful fit.
Generally, coaching will consist of 50-minute phone sessions at a frequency to be determined jointly, depending on the client’s need. To make the most of our time together, I may propose assignments to be completed between sessions.
The value of coaching resides in helping you to protect other, much more valuable investments, things vital to the quality of your present and future life. I have developed this coaching program because I honestly believe that more information and less isolation will 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’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the literature demonstrates that it is possible to transform these very difficult experiences into a crucible for growth, both personal and professional.
Coaching is just one of the tools available to help you to thrive. If exploring that possibility interests you, just reach out here, and we’ll connect..