Cleveland Clinic Promotes Coaching Culture for Physicians

By Christopher Cheney

Cleveland Clinic has robust coaching programs for the Cleveland-based health system’s physicians.

Coaching programs can help health systems address physician wellbeing and retention. The coaching programs at Cleveland Clinic are credited with helping the health system avoid $84 million in physician turnover costs over the past decade.

Cleveland Clinic has two programs that provide coaching services to physicians. The Center for Excellence in Coaching and Mentoring provides physician peer-based coaching. The Mandel Global Leadership and Learning Institute (GLLI) provides non-physician coaches for physicians.

“We have two core components. The Center for Excellence in Coaching and Mentoring is physician-led peer physician coaching. The Mandel Global Leadership and Learning Institute features coaches who are not physicians; however, 60% to 70% of the people we coach are physicians,” says Ashley Villani, MBA, senior organization development consultant at GLLI.

The programs work in concert, she says. “The intentionality around it is that the programs collaborate with one another. I collaborate with the Center for Excellence in Coaching and Mentoring to complement and align our coaching initiatives. We align our training for both our physician coaches and non-physician coaches, with the idea to not compete with one another because we are here for the same reason—to provide coaching for all caregivers and physicians.”

Villani says GLLI has 42 non-physician coaches, which are drawn from two sources. About half of the coaches are leaders in the institute or organization development consultants at the institute. The other half of the coaches are “enterprise coaches,” she says. “Those are formal or informal leaders in the enterprise who went through the same training as all of our other coaches. Examples are chief nursing officers, executive directors, chief operating officers, and human resources senior directors.”

Coaching benefits

Physicians and physician coaches generate several benefits from being involved in the coaching programs, Villani says.

“Physicians benefit from coaching by having dedicated time to pause and focus on their own development with a confidential thought-partner. An example of a benefit is increased resilience during times of change. Additionally, participants have reported increased leadership role consideration and attainment as a result of their participation, as well as increased academic output, including grants, publications, and presentations,” she says.

The coaching programs also reduce physician burnout, Villani says. “Our coaching programing drives fulfillment and satisfaction as well as increasing resilience and a sense of relationship for participants. These are components of wellbeing that can mitigate burnout.”

The coaching has been linked to increased physician engagement, which helps address burnout, she says. “When engagement increases, wellbeing often increases, and burnout likely decreases.”

Physician coaches benefit from their coaching, Villani says.

“It’s been found that the physicians who coach other physicians get as much value from the experience as those they are coaching. Additionally, they report using the skills across contexts outside of the formal coaching with colleagues, patients, and at home. Coach training surveys in 2019 showed a 62% increase from pre-to-post training in their ability to apply coaching skills in daily interactions with colleagues, a 58% increase with patients, and a 55% increase in their personal lives,” she says.

Physicians have cited the coaching programs as part of the reasons why they decided to stay at Cleveland Clinic, which helped the health system avoid millions of dollars in turnover costs over the past decade, Villani says. The avoided costs include recruitment costs, onboarding costs, and training costs, she says.

Boosting physician retention also avoids the opportunity costs associated with filling a physician position, Villani says. “It takes time to recruit a new physician. Especially with the nature of our academic medical center, there are unique medical specialties, and it can take a long time to replace a physician.”

Advice for establishing internal coaching programs at health systems

Establishing internal coaching programs at health systems requires an intentional effort, Villani says. “Implementing an internal coaching program and a coaching culture is a journey. It is important to understand the organization’s perception of coaching prior to implementing a formal coaching program, to identify what you want the coaching program to be known for, and to use this information to inform the creation of a realistic implementation plan unique to the organization.”

She says health systems should be mindful of several other considerations when establishing internal coaching programs:

  • Obtain support from the highest levels of leadership that coaching is valuable
  • Provide recognition for those who serve as coaches to maintain engagement of the coaches and to drive acknowledgment from the organization that coaching is a valuable offering
  • Understand the needs of your employees with a needs assessment and recognize that needs may vary based on roles within the organization
  • Promote a coaching culture where coaching is seen as a positive way to support personal and professional development
  • Make sure employees know that coaching is available and know how to request a coach
  • Ensure that employees know the difference between coaching and mentoring—coaching includes focusing on reflection and building upon an employee’s personal assets, whereas mentors can offer employees advice

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.