Find your Coach’s Cap

Michael Greenwald, MD
Associate Professor, Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine
Emory University/Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta


Physicians wear many hats. At times we are teachers and other times psychotherapists. We are asked to diagnose and also to counsel. With experience each of us learns when to switch hats. But there is one important role that we sometimes fail to recognize and embrace: the role of “coach.”

Coaching is very similar to teaching but there are important differences.

The focus of a teacher is to both share information and judge the learner’s ability to recall that information. While good teachers engage their learners it is common for this relationship to be quite passive. The natural outcome of this is the lecture – a one-way relationship that best stereotypes the role of teacher. Even in the clinical setting we tend to default to this approach.

Coaching is more behavioral and better suited for clinical education.

A coach’s preoccupation is regular assessment and feedback on the learner’s current skills. This is far more challenging than simply quizzing the learner on rote facts. Assessing skills and behavior requires attention and insight. It also requires understanding your student’s learning style. What would help THIS student-clinician get to the next level?

Perhaps the greatest value of the coach’s cap is that it changes our approach to feedback.

It is hard for a learner not to be distracted by the implications of criticism from a teacher.   The conclusion of the relationship between student and teacher is a grade. The coach’s focus is different. The student quickly recognizes that each critique from their coach is intended to make improvements simply to help improve performance.

So when you suit up for work today – find your coach’s cap.

Begin your shift by discussing with your team what you hope to accomplish and provide regular, specific feedback on directly observed behaviors. Recognize strengths as well as weaknesses so they know what do again as well as what to change. Show your genuine concern for helping your learner and you will create a culture of feedback that is both effective and appreciated. Today – it’s time to coach.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *