Dr. Teresa Malcolm first discovered physician development coaching during a leadership program for physicians. A physician leader herself, she found it incredibly helpful for her development and decided to hire a full-time coach to help her continue to learn and grow.
From there, her passion for entrepreneurship and giving back to her peers led her to become a physician development coach herself. Her coaching philosophy, The Malcolm Method, is rooted in the principles of social and emotional intelligence, positive psychology, and supportive accountability. Through-thought provoking conversations, she strives to deepen the awareness of her physician clients and further their actions, thereby helping them to thrive as they lead.
In this edition of our “Doctor And…” blog series, we spoke with Dr. Malcolm about her discovery of coaching and how she is working to use those learnings to help her peers become better leaders.
What drew you to medicine? What did your initial path look like?
I can recall back to as early as the age of six, that I wanted to be a doctor. I read every day knowing that I wanted to take care of people, which is what I thought one did as a doctor. My Aunt Belle, who dedicated her life to serving others as a nursing assistant, said that I reminded her of the physicians that she worked with at the hospital. She said that, like the physicians in her unit, I was often engrossed in a book and would share the details of what I read in a manner others could easily understand. Young and precocious, I set my sights on becoming a doctor so that I could do what I loved to do – read and care for others. As I grew older and came to understand what it meant to be a doctor, my dream evolved. Science classes became a place where I could continue to explore my love of reading as well as learn problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Serving others in need increased, and to this day, reading is one of my favorite pastimes.
My path to becoming a doctor was fairly traditional. I majored in General Biology at UC San Diego, and I attended Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, LA. I started medical school wanting to be a pediatrician, but I ultimately chose Obstetrics and Gynecology. Developing deeply meaningful relationships with women at poignant life milestones was a major attraction for me. I thought OBGYN offered the perfect blend of surgery and continuity of care. And the best perk, in my opinion, shepherding new life into the world by delivering babies!
At what point did you discover physician development coaching?
I was introduced to physician coaching while participating in a Leadership Program for physicians. Our large cohort was divided into smaller groups of approximately six to seven persons, with a physician coach assigned to each group. We met with our coach once a month throughout the six months of the leadership program. It was my first taste of coaching as a way to launch me to new heights of personal and professional development.
Tell me a little more about your experience with physician development coaching.
After experiencing coaching in a group setting, I wanted more and hired an Executive Coach. This allowed me to engage in 1:1 personalized coaching to focus on leadership development and achieve meaningful goals. My coach has been instrumental in helping me to identify my leadership style, my strengths and weaknesses as a leader, as well as my aspirations. Through thought provoking conversations, he helps me generate new learnings and raise my level of self-awareness without judgment or criticism. I learned to wear the hat of an explorer and to search for answers with childlike curiosity, which is both productive and fun. Our coach-coachee relationship over the years has been an inspiration in my decision to follow my passion and to pursue physician coaching.
From there, how did you decide to start your own physician development coaching business – Master Physician Leaders?
Entrepreneurship was not an early aspiration for me. It arose from a passion, an energizing passion to partner with physicians, inspiring them to optimize their personal and professional development. My want is to create a better tomorrow for physicians by helping them be aware of their own emotions and those of others, in the moment, to manage themselves and their relationships. I see how brilliant physicians flounder professionally and personally because their bedside leadership style that brought them great success does not translate successfully in the boardroom or in a meeting. I established the coaching firm, Master Physician Leaders, to serve physicians eager to gain clarity about their leadership strengths, and with this knowledge, experiment, and innovate to test limiting beliefs and boundaries hindering their progress.
How would you describe you work as a development coach today?
My work as a coach is hugely gratifying. One of the many attributes of the medical profession is the development of the patient-physician relationship. Patients let us into their lives, and they entrust us with a personal part of themselves. They share intimate details, telling us who they are beyond a name and a diagnosis. As a Physician Development Coach, I am afforded the same opportunity of getting to know my clients as individuals. I recognize what a gift it is for a physician colleague to entrust me with thoughts or feelings that they are experiencing. During a coaching session or a group workshop, physicians speak openly about what is top of mind, looking for guidance in finding their own solutions. Helping the physician leader to shift their perspective and move forward with a well-designed action is both exciting and gratifying.
What kind of potential do you see in physician development coaching to help clinicians with burnout?
I think there is tremendous potential to help physicians with burnout through coaching, but coaching is not the sole antidote to the epidemic of burnout/moral injury affecting medical professionals at alarmingly high rates. Where I see an opportunity for coaching is to reduce the symptoms associated with burnout, particularly emotional exhaustion and low resilience. Coaching partners with physicians to assist them with navigating the stressors of their professional life or change within the workspace or everyday decision making. It allows physicians the opportunity to imagine problems from a new perspective and to explore possibilities that they didn’t previously see. Physicians experiencing burnout tend to view situations with a binary mindset – good vs. bad or right vs. wrong. They tend to feel isolated, thinking their situation is an outlier and drained by the profession that used to once be a source of joy. Coaching lets physicians reflect on what is most important in their life and explore intentional ways to overcome the challenges they encounter.
The article, “Effect of a Professional Coaching Intervention on the Well-being and Distress of Physicians” from the August 2019 edition of Jama Internal Medicine speaks about this exact issue. The study found professional coaching for physicians may be an effective way to reduce emotional exhaustion, improve quality of life, and build resilience. It is the first study to examine how professional, credentialed coaching can aid physicians toward a life of well-being and fulfillment.
What other benefits does development coaching provide?
Physician Coaching promotes the philosophy physicians are dynamic leaders with unique strengths. When encouraged to bubble up to the surface and put to use, these strengths can breakthrough negative assumptions which positions physician leaders to thrive as they lead.
Coaches can see things the coachee doesn’t see and can act as a mirror. My position is without judgment or bias. It’s my job to lean in, listen, and observe whole person awareness. Coaching echoes the client’s words or acknowledges the nonverbal communication to help the coachee breakdown internal resistance and open up new possibilities of action.
Coaching gives physicians a confidential space to say things they might otherwise be reticent to speak aloud and to say it to someone whose sole purpose is to help him/her to grow. A coach is unique in their role as the physician’s advocate because the coach’s perspective is neutral. Coaching provides an environment rich with supportive accountability for the physician leader to articulate goals and to set action steps for success.
What advice do you have for doctors who might’ve never heard of development coaching before?
I think it is crucial to debunk the myth that coaching is for the disruptive physician or that it addresses a disciplinary problem. Essential to coaching accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), is the belief that the client is already full of potential and has all of the resources that are needed for success. The individual is not broken, and therefore, does not need to be fixed. Physician Development Coaching follows the same philosophy as a collaborative and thought-provoking process that guides a physician to search for ideas through themselves. It helps one to unearth the endless possibilities residing within and their physician leadership.
I advise the doctor searching for a coach to prioritize fit and trust when selecting a coach. For the coach-client relationship to be a successful partnership, the client has to feel a connection with the Coach. Find someone with whom you can talk to and express your thoughts without holding back. You might feel more comfortable with a coach of the same (or opposite) gender, or of similar educational background, or a coach who shares the same hobbies that you do. A good fit is relatively easy to find, while trust takes time to build. But if the fit isn’t there from the beginning, establishing a trusting relationship is extremely difficult. Go with your gut and listen to your inner voice. Your inner voice is wise and will clue you in to the coach that is right for you.
A piece of advice is for the physician straddling the fence about hiring a coach or is wondering, “Do I need a coach?” I suggest they ask themselves three questions. “What are the areas I wish to develop, enhance, or grow? How will making the change affect other areas of my life? If I had no restrictions at all, what is one small step I could take to move forward?” A coach can help you explore a broader set of solutions and find the answers to these questions.
Thank you to Dr. Malcolm for speaking with us about her experience discovering how development coaching could make an impact on her own life, and how she has turned that around to provide the service to others.
If you are interested in speaking to Dr. Terri, contact or follow her at:
- Website: masterMDleaders.com
- LinkedIN: Teresa Malcolm, MD, MBA, FACOG, CPE, CPXP
- Twitter: @masterMDleaders
- Instagram: masterphysicianleaders
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