Accelerating Change in Medical Education

4 keys to making a medical school coaching relationship work for you

Access to a coach in medical school can be an invaluable asset, provided that this opportunity for guidance and support is matched by an understanding of the process and the right expectations on both sides of the relationship. Find out what it takes to build a solid connection to help face the challenges of learning to be a doctor.

Prep smart for the USMLE

Test your knowledge and get expert insights from Kaplan Medical on commonly missed questions on USMLE examinations.

Read More

Actionable insights can be found in the AMA’s downloadable book, It Takes Two: A Guide to Being a Good Coachee. It’s an excellent introduction to an effective, up-and-coming approach in medical education, pairing students with coaches from within the institution.

Supporting this method is part of the AMA Accelerating Change in Medical Education initiative designed to train learners for the future of health care.

“A great coach is someone you can trust, someone you can count on to help you navigate the many twists and turns along the way,” explains Chapter 3 of the guide, written by Braden Engstrom, Jonathan Silverberg and Nicole Deiorio, MD. “The quality of your coaching experience is only going to be as good as the relationship you form with your coach.”

Some coaches are selected by the student; others are assigned. Either way, much is already known about what’s required to make it a fruitful partnership. The chapter covers these four essentials to success.

Conscious, consistent effort

At the outset, the chapter notes that effective coaching requires an active and engaged pairing of student and coach. “A good relationship allows learners to share successes with their coach, as well as their failures. Learners should not be afraid to ask their coach for help, while also feeling comfortable enough to provide them with honest and open feedback.”

Related Coverage

How medical students can benefit from coaching in medicine

Self-reflection on what’s to gain

Coaching exists to meet the needs of the learner, but articulating them—and making adjustments over time—can be challenging to students, especially when new to the process. The chapter offers a variety of questions students can ask themselves to help focus the coaching experience for both parties to the relationship:

  • Where are you now along this journey, and where is it that you need to go?
  • What are your strengths, propelling you forward? What are your weaknesses, holding you back?
  • What have you tried that’s worked? What hasn’t worked?
  • Do you respond well to internal accountability? External accountability?
  • What do you want your coach to help you achieve in the short, medium and long term?

Clear expectations

The chapter explores the fundamentals of an effective coaching relationship—trust, boundaries, credibility, expectations, engagement and interdependence. The authors also recognize that confidentiality must be respected—there are some things a coachee may not want shared.

That vulnerability also presents a major boundary issue. Students should feel safe in discussing shortcomings. In that light, the authors note, “a coach cannot be in a position to grade or assess a learner. At the same time, a coach’s role is not to advocate for a learner’s advancement.”

Expectations are so central to the relationship that the chapter notes that coaching contracts are a popular approach. “Should any issues arise in the relationship, a contract can be a resource to refer to for resolution.”

Related Coverage

Here's your must-have checklist for med school success

Anticipate difficulties

“Probably the most frequent obstacle faced by both coaches and learners is time,” notes the guide—which devotes an entire later chapter to handling coaching sessions—but there are other common situations that may be a bit stickier.

For example, a coachee might not “click” with the coach, a situation typically more common in assigned connections. It’s fixable, but requires the learner to speak up, either with the coach or with the leadership of the program.

Get more guidance from the AMA on coaching in medical education.