Accelerating Change in Medical Education

Why academic coaching is catching on in medical schools

Evidence of the effectiveness of coaching in medical education has been mounting over the last decade, leading educators and administrators to look for resources to help them create coaching programs of their own. A survey of medical schools reveals that nearly all had a coaching program or were developing one. The majority of established programs were still young, having been implemented in the last five years.

Making the Rounds

Get the latest advice, interviews and discussions on the most important topics affecting the lives and careers of medical students and residents.

Listen Now (Apple Podcasts)

The authors of the study published in Medical Education Online surveyed more than 30 medical schools participating in the AMA Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium to describe existing coaching programs and help other institutions develop their own.

The AMA offers two free handbooks, Coaching in Medical Education: A Faculty Handbook, and It Takes Two: A Guide to Being a Good Coachee, to help educators and administrators create programs for coaching medical students.

Learn more with the AMA about how medical students can benefit from coaching in medicine.

Related Coverage

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

Why pursue coaching in medical school?

Medical schools listed the following goals for the established programs and those being implemented in the next year:

  • Professional identity formation—80%.
  • Professionalism—76%.
  • Academic performance—76%.

Other goals cited, in descending frequency, were well-being, community building, leadership, development of lifelong learning skills, remediation and clinical skill development.

In terms of content, 92% of programs reported academic performance, 88% cited professional development and 88% mentioned goal-setting. Other domains covered, in descending frequency, were well-being, reflection, interpersonal communication, time management, clinical performance, specialty selection, learner-driven content and decision-making abilities.

All of the programs surveyed had multiple goals rather than a single focus.

“Although this approach makes intuitive sense, literature to date has largely focused on coaching interventions with a singular goal,” says the study. “This finding has important implications for how institutions structure new coaching programs and select their coaches. For example, if a coaching program has multiple goals, coach-coachee dyads will need adequate time to address multiple goals and coaches will need to be well versed in multiple content areas.”

The study was co-written by Maya M. Hammoud, MD, MBA—the AMA's special adviser on medical education innovation and professor of learning health sciences at University of Michigan Medical School—and colleagues Margaret Wolff, MD, MHPE, Sally Santen, MD, PhD, Nicole Deiorio, MD, and Megan Fix, MD, from the University of Michigan Medical School, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and University of Utah School of Medicine, respectively. All these medical schools are members of the AMA consortium.

“These results do not suggest one particular approach to coaching in undergraduate medical education but rather highlight variables each school can carefully consider when developing a coaching program,” the study says.

Read more from the AMA about how medical students can make the most of an academic coaching relationship.

Related Coverage

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

Who’s doing the medical school coaching?

"The cornerstone of coaching is the coach-coachee relationship,” the authors wrote, noting that the relationship is different from mentoring and advising. “In this study, the majority of respondents correctly identified the coaching relationship as one in which ‘the coach helps the student find a strategy through asking clarifying questions.’”

Most programs surveyed, 80%, made use of attending physicians as coaches, but residents and fellows and non-physicians were also utilized. In addition, while the number of students assigned to each coach varied, the majority of coaches, 64%, received 5–25% full-time equivalent effort to support their role.

The authors also provided insights on program development, implementation and evaluation, advising a six-step approach.

“This process should begin with problem identification and a needs assessment to determine if there are unmet student needs that may be filled by a coaching program,” the study says.

Limitations of the study include respondents’ being biased toward early adoption of education innovations, heavy representation of large academic medical centers and variability in how coaching is defined.