When Doctors and Managers Learn to Talk To Each Other

April 29, 2007

A couple of months ago,  a colleague from v.R. connected me to a journalist who called a few days later and interviewed me on my coaching practice specifically with M.D.s in clinic environments (where I do a lot of work). Since I also teach on an MBA for health care management professionals at the IMB, I had something to say. The article, which also includes statements from other coaches, has now been published (in German).

 What did not find its way into the article is the fact that I also coach clinical and commercial management at the same time – sometimes even in the same hospital. This is most interesting because a lot of tension in hospitals comes from the fact that the perspectives of doctors and owners are seen to be contradictory or at least at cross-purposes: the doctors (and other clinic personnel) work to preserve life, while the owners (and managers) look at the hospital as a (hopefully) profit-generating enterprise.

When you coach doctors and managers, however, things aren’t this simple: it turns out that both groups really stand on the same side: in today’s society, patients cannot heal, and the hospital cannot flourish and grow, if either the managerial or the medical aspect of running a hospital are neglected.  This is a complicated, and often painful, learning process for both groups. In the course of this process, managers must learn to respect and appreciate medical culture, and doctors must learn to respect and appreciate managerial decision-making.

In this learning process, a trained and conscientious executive coach can be an enormously useful asset and companion. But no more: as in all group processes, it will only succeed if all participants agree on the terms of interaction and grow to respect each other’s viewpoints and “habitus” (a reference to the theory of the late French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who worked with the terms “habitus” and “field” to great effect).

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