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Life and Business Coaching for Doctors: Sham or Sure Thing?


[Editor’s Note: Today’s post is from WCI Network Partner Jimmy Turner, The Physician Philosopher. A coachee (playa?) turned coach, he’s now a big fan of coaching. Learn more about his coaching service at the bottom of the post.]

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You go through training expecting that the light at the end of the tunnel – becoming an attending physician and the salary and opportunity that it brings – will make all that time you spent in training worth the energy, sleepless nights, and effort you put into becoming a high-earning doctor…

… and it does, for a time. Then, you get increasingly burned out in medicine.  You find yourself in a world run by administrators, insurance companies, RVU goals, and patient satisfaction metrics. With little autonomy, you feel like there is nothing you can do.  So, you start weighing your options. How quickly can you save to get to financial independence? Should you go part-time?  Should you quit medicine altogether?  What if you built non-clinical income so that you could get to financial independence sooner? Is there a way to fall back in love with medicine? Maybe medicine is actually fine for you, but you wonder how can you make it great?

The answers may not be clear. So, I want to introduce you to one way to help you sort it all out. You can view this as another tool to put in your arsenal in the ever-present fight to find personal and financial freedom.


What is Coaching?

You’ve probably heard all the buzz about coaching. Is it all it is cracked up to be? Is it just a sham? Does it really help doctors? In order to figure this out, we first need to define coaching. After all, coaching is an unregulated industry and so – if you aren’t careful – you can land yourself with a “coach” who has no formal training in coaching but is more than happy to message you on Facebook and pocket any money you might provide them.

Life coaching and business coaching are not that different than coaching in sports. The purpose of coaching is to provide a non-judgmental mirror where doctors can see what is going on in their life and then to formulate a plan to address the problem. In other words, to make an assessment and then a game plan.

Coaching is Coaching

Life or business coaching are similar to coaching in fine arts (vocal coaches) or even sports (ever seen a professional sports team without a coach?).

For example, when I started to snap hook my driver on the golf course (picture a golf ball sailing straight into a house immediately on the left – sorry if that was your house!), getting a swing lesson where my coach showed me the problem on video helped me understand what was going on and what needed to be fixed.

In the same way, coaching for physicians by professional coaches (read: professional means additional cost, training, and certification were involved in learning how to coach) who are also physicians helps show doctors what is going on so that they can make the necessary changes to get the results they want.

In Life Coaching the client may want to decrease their burnout or find work-life balance as a partner, parent, and/or physician. Business Coaching for entrepreneurially-minded doctors, on the other hand, might involve working on creating financial freedom through an online side gig. The purpose and desired result of the coaching is up to the client. But the process is the same. In a nutshell, good coaching is called causal coaching (note: this is different than “advice” laden coaching where the coach simply “tells” clients what to do). Causal coaching involves looking into the thoughts our clients have. Why? Because everything we do in life starts with our thoughts. As Emerson points out, our thoughts are quite powerful:

“Every revolution was first a thought in one man’s mind, and when the same thought occurs to another man, it is the key to that era.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Through an examination of your thoughts, we can then spend time determining how these thoughts show up in your life. What feelings, actions, and results are manifested from these thoughts? Are they what we want? If not, the work of coaching is to note these thoughts and then transform our minds to produce the feelings, actions, and results we want.

Does Life Coaching Work for Physicians?

We all know the studies that have shown the cost of burnout on medicine.  If you aren’t aware, a paper published by the American College of Physicians in 2019 showed that approximately $4.6 BILLION in cost can be attributed to physician turnover and burnout in the United States.

That’s Billion with a “B”.

When brought down to an individual physician level this amounted to $7,600 per physician per year in cost. These are conservative estimates because it has been shown the cost to replace a physician due to turnover is anywhere between $250,000 to $1 million, depending on experience and specialty.

In the end, this 4.6 billion dollar number got people’s attention. As I am sure it just got yours. So, many started looking into potential solutions.

Does Coaching Actually Work?

A 2019 JAMA Internal Medicine article out of the Mayo Clinic looked to answer this question. They took ~80 physicians and randomized them into one of two groups.

The intervention group received 6 coaching sessions from a professional coach via telephone. The first session was for an hour, and the following 5 were for 30-minutes. In total, they received 3.5 hours of professional coaching. This occurred over a 5 month period. Not to fear, though, the clinical machine must keep making money. So, all of the doctors in the intervention group were also required to MAKE-UP any patient volume they missed. In other words, the coaching group had work to do in addition to the coaching, which was added to their already busy schedule. They compared this to the control group who did not get any professional coaching. (Don’t worry. They provided these docs coaching after the study completed).

physician coaching

Results: Professional Coaching for Physicians

The results of this study were pretty enlightening. Despite having coaching added on to their already busy schedules, coaching proved effective. Specifically, professional coaching was shown to:

  • Decrease Emotional Exhaustion by 30% compared to the control group.
  • Decreased Burnout by 20% compared to control group.
  • Improve Quality of Life and Resilience among physicians who received coaching.

Simply put… professional life coaching for physicians works for burnout.

Add this to the evidence for peer-to-peer support in small-group physician settings (JAMA 2014), and it seems that the most effective models might consist of physicians – with professional coach training – coaching other physicians.

What About Business Coaching?

The case for professional life coaching for doctors looking to improve work-life balance is pretty compelling. What about business coaching? Can business coaching really help physicians create financial freedom?

Making the case for business coaching isn’t quite as difficult. After all, this is not a new idea. Executive, leadership, and business coaching have been around for years. Particularly in business worlds outside of medicine.

What is new is the access to business coaching in medicine, in particular for everyday physicians who don’t work in the C-suite. For example, business coaching is now accessible for doctors looking to build physician side gigs.

It turns out that business coaching can help speed up the learning curve for others, particularly if you are receiving coaching from someone who has already successfully done what you’re looking to do.

The cool part? If you own a business, business coaching is usually considered a business consulting expense. So, you can often write it off come tax time. (Note: I’ve also seen instances where organizations/groups allow physicians to use CME, book, or wellness funds to pay for life coaching, too).

How Would I Benefit from Business Coaching?

You are reading this post on the White Coat Investor. So, chances are that you care about financial independence. Well, my friend, broadly speaking there are only two ways to get to financial freedom, at least freedom from medicine.

One way is through savings and investments in order to have enough money such that you can safely withdraw your retirement needs once there. This is the slow and steady method to wealth – a method of which I am a big fan. The other way to have financial freedom from medicine is to create monthly non-clinical income. This method diversifies our income streams and (if successful) can speed your journey to financial freedom. Common examples of this include real estate or other entrepreneurial efforts like physician side gigs.

This is where business coaching comes in. Coaching can help you get past the mental roadblocks that have kept you “stuck” from starting that side-gig, whether it was an online business, consulting for industry, or doing medicolegal work. What’s stopping you from starting that business? I’ll save you the time. It isn’t because you “don’t know what to do”… we live in the information age where you can search for literally anything you want to know on the internet. Knowledge is never the problem.

The problem is some thought that is holding you hostage to starting the business of your dreams. A fear of failure. Of putting yourself out there. Of getting it wrong somehow. These are all things business coaching can solve. Business coaching can also help you speed up the process to make your side gig more profitable. And faster. How? By letting someone who has the experience show you the ropes. It is the same reason we all reach out to mentors and advisors. It is why I am willing to pay for my own coach. I’ve seen the return on investment in my own life. 

Where Can I Get Life and Business Coaching?

My own journey through burnout and overwhelm (and getting hosed by the financial industry) led me to create The Physician Philosopher in November of 2017. The purpose was – and always has been – to help doctors create the life they deserve through personal and financial freedom. Yet, it wasn’t until becoming a client myself that I found balance, and my burnout finally faded with the help of life coaching. It was for this reason that I became a coach myself. Whether you choose to get life and/or business coaching through the Alpha Coaching Experience or somewhere else, I want you to know that coaching is available. And it helps.

As you look for life coaching that can help you find work-life balance, or business coaching to help you build an online physician side gig, I want you to remember one thing: it is an investment. As one of the Alpha clients put it in their review of the program, if coaching helps you decrease burnout and improve your quality of life… if it adds even six-months or one year to your career… if it allows you to enjoy life more at home and at work… it is well worth the investment.

YOU are worth the investment. You and your family deserve for you to become the best partner, parent, and physician that you can be. Coaching can help you do that.

[Editor’s Note: The Alpha Coaching Experience (ACE) is a 12-week coaching program where doctors – with professional training in causal coaching – coach other doctors. It involves weekly life and business group coaching calls, weekly one-on-one coaching calls, and a coaching video library – think Netflix for physician self-coaching topics. Enrollment for ACE ends 2/22 at midnight. Click here to check out Alpha Client reviews/testimonials and to learn more.]

What do you think about life and business coaching? Do you think it’s a sham or a valuable tool? What would make you consider coaching? Comment below!

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