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Med Educ. 2019 May;53(5):467-476. doi: 10.1111/medu.13799. Epub 2019 Jan 23.

Where philosophy meets culture: exploring how coaches conceptualise their roles.

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Department of Clinical Neurological Sciences, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Innovation in Medical Education and Department of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.



Although conceptually attractive, coaching in medicine remains ill-defined, with little examination of the transferability of coaching principles from other fields. Here we explore how coaching is enacted both within and outside of medicine; we aim to understand both the elements required for coaching to be useful and the factors that may influence its translation to the medical education context.


In this constructivist grounded theory study, we interviewed 24 individuals across three groups: physicians who consider themselves coaches in clinical learning settings (n = 8), physicians with experience as sports, arts or business coaches (n = 10), and sports coaches without medical backgrounds (n = 6). Data collection and analysis were conducted iteratively using constant comparison to identify themes and explore their relationships.


We identified a shared philosophy of coaching, comprising three core elements that our participants endorsed regardless of the coaching context: (i) mutual engagement, with a shared orientation towards growth and development; (ii) ongoing reflection involving both learners and coaches, and (iii) an embrace of failure as a catalyst for learning. Enacting these features appeared to be influenced by culture, which affected how coaching was defined and developed, how the coaching role was positioned within the learning context, and how comfortably vulnerability could be expressed. Participants struggled to clearly define the coaching role in medicine, instead acknowledging that the lines between educational roles were often blurred. Further, the embrace of failure appeared challenging in medicine, where showing vulnerability was perceived as difficult for both learners and teachers.


Medical education's embrace of coaching should be informed by an understanding of both coach and learner behaviours that need to be encouraged and trained, and the cultural and organisational supports that are required to foster success.


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