Coaches Ask the Questions RNs Want to Answer

January 30th, 2012


By , BSN, RN

”Put me in, coach.” That’s how I felt when I finished nursing school and started my internship in the operating room. I couldn’t wait to get in the game. I wanted my own room, and to be part of the team and to help patients be comfortable with their choices and to get to use cool tools and wear scrubs instead of heels at work every day.

Ten years down the road I still loved that part of my nursing career but I also knew I needed to expand out of it. Travel nursing was fun. Different hospitals, different personnel, mostly the same problems but in locations I had always wanted to see. But, it was still the OR. I needed something else.

This job is great and just what I needed. When I was putting together my application for blogger for I came across my resume from nursing school. Under goals it said my short term plan was to get a job as an OR nurse (check) and under long term goals it said I wanted to marry my careers in journalism and nursing to write about nursing and nursing issues. CHECK! However, these career goals, insights and good fortune aren’t always so obvious for other RNs. Hence, the new world of nurse coaching.

What is Nurse Coaching?

It’s all about a game plan for your nursing career and getting the kind of support, insight, and encouragement we all need to help find that next step in our lives, relationships and yes, careers.

Coaching helps nurses engage in conversations and relationships that are directed at enhancing professional development, career commitment, and practice. Coaching is a collaborative relationship entered voluntarily between a coach and person, in this case a nurse, who is seeking change, focus, and/or career enhancement.

Sometimes the terms “coaching” and “mentoring are used interchangeably but they are actually two different actions. According to Coaching in Nursing: An Introduction, a workbook produced as part of a collaboration between the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and Sigma Theta Tau International, Honor Society of Nursing (STTI), this is the difference between the two:

  • Coaching is a collaborative relationship, undertaken between a skilled facilitator (coach) and a willing individual (client). It is time limited and focused and uses conversation to help clients (individuals or groups) achieve their goals.
  • Mentoring is a longer term relationship in which someone with more experience and wisdom (mentor) supports and encourages another (mentee/protégé) as that individual grows and develops professionally and personally. While you may use coaching skills as a mentor, you do not need to be a mentor to be a coach.

Coaching is not about giving advice, it is about listening, questioning, discussing and clarifying. It is therapeutic; it is motivational; and it is encouraging. Coaches are used by corporate bigwigs, entertainment stars, athletes, and other successful people found in every industry. And, coaching isn’t just about changing to other career paths, it is also about finding greater enjoyment and satisfaction in their current roles. Sounds like just the ticket for nurses who are often pushed beyond their limits, emotionally and physically and have a tendency to care for others more than we care for ourselves.

Trends in Coaching

Nurse coaches can be found working with a number of different methods. When meeting a nurse coach for the first time, it is no different than meeting a new patient; the coach will assess, assess, assess. There are different methods in coaching and while initially one-on-one was the way to go today a variety of different styles are being used by individuals and organizations alike.

  • One-on-one coaching is the most traditional method. It involves meeting face-to-face, over the phone or even on the internet. It is focused on the needs of the individual client. It is like having a personal trainer for your career.
  • Group Coaching is a growing field which can be used, for example, for a group of new nurses or nurse interns to discuss individual challenges they face at the beginning of their careers, adapting to a new job and new workplace.
  • Team Coaching is slightly different from group in that it approaches the individuals involved as a single unit, or ‘team’. The issues discussed are the “team’s” issue’s, the team jointly develops a plan and moves ahead with instituting it.
  • Peer Coaching is used to help nurses advance their careers and increase job satisfaction. It has become a mainstay in organizations that are looking for ways to retain their senior nurses and provide opportunities for junior nurses to benefit from their experience. It is also a valuable tool for discussing careers and career possibilities within the institution and is a pro-active method for supporting employees’ career aspirations.
  • Health Coaching is a great way for nurses to take their expertise to their patients or client base. Patients increasingly want to take charge of their own health and their own health futures, and health coaching enables nurses to use a focused form of communication in delivering patient care. The approach seems a natural fit for the nurse-client relationship where the clients articulate their needs and the nurse-coach asks questions that will help move the client forward. Coaching clients and patients is another application that holds promise for expanding nursing practice.
  • Inter-professional Coaching is another growth field that is focused on advancing inter-professional education and practice. It is a collaborative effort not just between nurse coach and client but also between the members of the group who usually come from different areas of related fields such as: physicians, nurses, therapists and other healthcare professionals. Nurses are particularly suited for this since we come from so many different specialty areas and recognize the benefit of a cooperation and teamwork.
  • Succession Planning is all about looking toward the future, whether as an individual or as a group or organization. It’s about making a plan for where you are headed. From an individual nurse’s perspective the coach can help you figure out everything from work-life balance to impending retirement. On an organizational level succession planning is becoming key for long-term human resource strategies, job-sharing, mentoring, and internship programs to name a few areas. It is used to support new managers, administrators, and other leaders as they transition themselves and their organization.

So this is what nurse coaches do. They are in many ways, nurses for nurses—and who among us couldn’t use a little rah-rah time. Nurses struggle everyday with other people’s problems. It is about time we recognized we need help with our own lives and it is, in fact, ok to get that help.

Since coaching is a relationship built on mutual trust, the coach must be someone whose expertise and method you value and trust. Some health care organizations include coaching services as part of their human resources offerings. Professional organizations may have coaches available for members, and some community organizations have coaches. Of course, many self- employed coaches also provide coaching on a fee for service basis and also may be on a centralized roster, such as with the International Coach Federation (ICF) as part of their Coach Referral Service. Finally, there is Google—the phrase nurse coach will bring up any number of nurses who have translated their experiences as caregivers themselves into coaches for other nurses. Take advantage, this may be the perfect time to reevaluate your career, your work-life balance and your future.

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