“I know you’re not a clinician, but I would like for you to formalize our Clinician Coaching Program and start shadowing and coaching clinicians at Sentara Medical Group.”
I honestly thought I misheard this request from my director. I immediately wondered. . .
How am I going to prepare to coach clinicians when I am not one myself?
What would I have to say to them that will inspire change?
Will I have any credibility to speak freely and honestly with them?
I realized that discovering the answers to these questions would afford our team the opportunity to positively impact our clinicians like we never had before.
In my time at Sentara as Patient Experience Consultant, I learned that non-clinicians can authentically contribute to the mission of clinician skill building in an extremely significant way by connecting with clinicians in their day-to-day challenges, collaborating with clinicians on new steps toward improvement, and inspiring clinicians to lead well.
Here are four steps for effectively engaging clinicians as a non-clinician.
Step 1: Prepare Through Research
Preparation was my first objective and tapping into the resources of the Clinician Experience Project was where my education began. I spent hours studying micro-learning content, taking extensive notes, and reviewing resources housed in the Project. Modules such as Assessing Coachability and Shadowing Clinicians laid the foundation for creating a formalized clinician coaching program. Shadowing checklists become valuable assets in my toolbox to guide me on what to look for as I observed clinical interactions. I was confident I knew what a great interaction was supposed to look like and came to a place where I felt equipped to actually share meaningful insight that would create value for clinicians and better experiences for patients.
Step 2: Strategize A Collaborative Approach
Messaging was the next key objective. Traditionally, the conversation of patient satisfaction was a sensitive subject in our group, especially because this conversation was dominated by the word “score.” Because of this, I wanted it to be clear that my visit was not rooted in remediation and judgment, but unwavering support and curiosity as to how I could help. I was simply there to help them be there very best. I discovered after a couple of visits that not being a clinician was actually advantageous to my endeavors. I was not there to scrutinize clinical skill sets, therefore I presented as less threatening and more like a partner and collaborator on the patient connection challenge.
Step 3: Learn & Try Together
Because I could leverage my previous career experience in coaching, training, operations, and leadership development, I was able to offer suggestions from a completely different perspective. I shared with clinicians minor “tweaks” that were manageable, easy to implement, and above all reasonable. I would regularly use my iPad to show video tips from the Project in between a clinician’s patient encounters. We then tried applying the skill with the next patient in a clinical encounter. I would encourage clinicians to not only try the new skill we just learned, but to carefully observe the patient response to their efforts. Next we would debrief after the visit and what it felt like for them and the patient. This impactful process was often transformative and validated a coaching formula that was working for clinicians, as coaching requests continued to increase.
Step 4: Embrace Your Unique Position
Building credibility as a non-clinician was very important to me and ideally should be for anyone who wants to coach clinicians. Coaching sessions often created vulnerability for the coached clinician. I was invited into their sacred space; I always wanted to be worthy of the invitation by making the time useful, productive, and helpful to the clinician. I had to quickly move past any insecurities of not being a clinician and realize that I had valuable insights. I leaned on my education from the Clinician Experience Project to give me guidance and credibility when giving my feedback or offering suggestions. I had the right curriculum, was able to share it in the appropriate way, and ultimately learned that being a non-clinician was not a barrier to supporting and coaching clinicians when I was equipped with the ideal preparation and resources.
I never dreamed of how much personal growth and satisfaction that would come from such an initially daunting request and what it feels like to help clinicians. Can those who are not clinical coach clinicians? Absolutely! Like any other successful effort, we have to do our work as coaches effectively. We must do our research in advance; be transparent with an “I am here to help” message; listen to challenges clinicians have; and provide simple feedback and guidance so they can be their best. In the end, coaches are there to help, guide, and support clinicians be the caregivers they have always wanted to be. When you do this as a coach, word spreads, requests for coaching rise, results emerge, and you have contributed to a better experience for patients and those who provide care.