The Three Things Physicians Share with Their Executive Coaches

More physicians are taking advantage of executive coaching resources.  The use of coaches has been common for executives in other industries for some time, but healthcare leaders and physicians, especially, are only recently embracing the idea.

Some physicians earn $500,000 a year, or much more.  They generate many times more than that in revenue for their institutions.  They are, in many respects, executives – paid like executives, and valuable resources whose performance impacts the success of the organization.

“Physicians . . .  are, in many respects, executives – paid like executives and valuable resources whose performance impacts the success of the organization.”

Many of these top performing physicians also hold demanding administrative, and teaching roles.  Healthcare is a complex industry as it is.  Is anyone in the organization facing a more challenging and complex set of responsibilities and expectations than physicians?

Even physicians who aren’t in leadership roles can benefit from professional guidance.  Their work is demanding and stressful.  They struggle to balance work and home life.   Physician burnout is reaching epidemic proportions.  Unfortunately, medical school education and training is focused, almost exclusively, on clinical knowledge and techniques.  Physicians are left to learn the necessary time management, business, relationship, stress management, and leadership skills on-the-job.

“Physician burnout is reaching epidemic proportions.”

The team at J3Personica has been providing coaching to physicians for several years.  Often this work has been with department chairs and other high-profile leaders. Just as often, though, we work with surgeons, primary care physicians, and even residents.

We start with the understanding that heightened self-awareness is the foundation for improving performance and success.  From there, we apply a deeper understanding of the self to the physician’s specific challenges and situations.  It helps that we have a deep understanding of the unique complexities of medicine – the personal challenges, the business challenges and, especially, the nature of academic medicine.

The feedback is remarkable.  Many of our clients refer to our work and guidance as “life-changing.”  We told one of our client’s stories (with his permission) in a recent blog.  It’s a great story of how he has grown and can now stay connected to his passion for the profession because he can better manage all of the circumstances and stressors that come with practicing medicine, today. 

There are common themes that emerge when working with physicians.  Each has her or his own strengths and challenges, but three topics seem to be prevalent:

Communication Expectations that Don’t Match Their Personality

Sometimes outstanding clinicians are not naturally socially proactive.  They’ve never been great communicators.  Medical school and training require certain skills – intellect, certainly, work ethic and conscientiousness, of course.  Relationship and communication skills (at least until recently) have not been pre-requisites for success.

It’s not uncommon for physicians to leave residency ready to diagnose and treat, but not necessarily ready for productive, rewarding interactions with administrators, other team members, and most importantly, patients and families.

In addition to all of the stressors of practicing medicine, it can be emotionally draining for some physicians to meet the relationship and communication expectations of all of these stakeholder groups – Be empathetic and engaging for patients and family members – Be effective team leaders, problem-solvers and teachers for staff – and be partners to administrators who are thinking of the good of the entire organization – whose goals sometimes seem at odds with the physician’s.

Trying to navigate these advanced communication skills is tough even for people who are naturally good at it.  For those who aren’t – it can leave them emotionally exhausted.

Tact and Diplomacy

More specifically, some struggle with the energy required to be exhibit tactful and diplomatic behaviors in dealing with team and organizational challenges.  Physicians, particularly surgeons, are by and large trained in the “see problem – fix problem” mindset and an autocratic leadership style.

This might serve them well in clinical situations.   If that same physician, however, is called upon to resolve a complex patient family issue, collaborate on a solution for an organizational process problem, or forced to disagree with a colleague in a productive manner  – that approach is likely to be counter-productive.  Physicians express frustration that they are expected to display a level of tact and diplomacy that was never part of their training.  It frustrates them and takes a tremendous amount of energy to manage this frustration, often with no true understanding of their own tendencies that drive the behavior.

A Struggle to Stay Organized and Meet Expectations

Many of these physicians feel they are failing everyone around them.  The struggle to organize their lives -at work and at home.   

“Many of these physicians feel they are failing everyone around them.”

For some, they simply aren’t naturally skilled planners and organizers.  They managed the structured workload of their training but now, they might have a family, practice partners, a team, administrators – all vying for their time.  They want to please them all.  Making it worse is that the physician work ethic makes them feel that they “should” be able to do it all and are disappointed in themselves when they can’t.

Physicians Need Help

Not every physician needs an executive coach.  Every physician should, though, think about his or her career development more deliberately.  What do I need to be successful?  Where am I struggling?  What are my goals?  What about my current situation works for me?  What doesn’t?  What resources, strategies or tools can I use to ensure my long-term success and satisfaction?  All of this starts with heightened self-awareness.  Frequently, it requires an experienced mentor or guide.

For more practical guidance, see our previous blog on Eight Things Physicians Need for Success.

To learn more about the work of our certified executive coaches, and our innovative approaches to physician success, visit our site at