Jun 01, 2013
By Gail Donner, RN (Ret'd), PhD , Mary Wheeler, RN, M.Ed., PCC

Health coaching a natural fit

Q: I am a staff nurse and lately I’ve been hearing a lot about health coaching as a benefit to patients. What is health coaching?

A: Coaching is a collaborative relationship between a coach and a willing individual — the client. In this relationship, which is both time limited and focused, the two engage in facilitated meaningful conversations in which clients lead in developing the actions necessary to help them achieve their goals and coaches support and encourage them along their journey. Their goals are as varied as the clients themselves.

Health coaching, also referred to as health and wellness coaching, is a specific coaching application for health-care providers and thosewho are looking for guidance as they take charge of their health and make changes in their lifestyle that will have long-lasting positive effects. By partnering with these individuals, and sometimes the individuals’ families, care providers are able to enhance confidence and competence in the ability of the individual to self-manage health conditions or make lifestyle changes. This approach can be helpful for people who are living with chronic diseases such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease or for those who are trying to stop smoking or lose weight.

Looking at the bigger picture, we are noticing that health coaching is being embraced by health-care organizations and health-care providers who are striving to transform the care experience to one where individuals are actively engaged in their care, in keeping with the idea of working with ratherthan doing for the individual. Health-care systems are exploring the potential of health coaching as a way to maximize the use of the resources available to them and to address increases in the numbers of people with chronic conditions, whether they are in hospital or out in the community.

Health coaching has been big in health care and in health-care careers in the U.S. for the last few years, and it is gaining traction here in Canada with emphasis on health coaching skill development. Although the competencies coaches require are well known, there is now new attention on identifying preparation and competencies for health coaches. In the U.S., programs that prepare health-care providers and others for this role are growing in numbers; here in Canada, certificate programs in health coaching have just begun to pop up. Of course, not every nurse needs to become a formally prepared health coach, but there are true benefits to using health coaching skills in your practice.

Health coaching can enhance your practice because it is a natural extension of the nurse-patient relationship. Imagine being involved in co-creating a vision for a patient’s health, setting goals and developing action plans and then, by asking meaningful questions, actively listening, observing and providing feedback, helping him/her take some control and move forward to achieve those goals. Those coaching skills build on two key elements of your day-to-day practice: clear communication and respect for the client/patient. In situations in which your patient is motivated to work with a health-care provider to achieve better health, you are the ideal choice.

Learn as much as you can about the benefits of health coaching for patients. You can find lots of success stories online. For a better understanding of the potential of different types of coaching, read our guide Coaching in Nursing: An Introduction, written for the International Council of Nurses and the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. The Art and Science of Nurse Coaching, published by the American Nurses Association, available in print and as an e-book, is another resource you might want to consult. The next step is to meet with your manager and educator, and work with them to find the most appropriate learning opportunities to help you develop the skills you’ll need.


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Gail Donner, RN (Ret'd), PhD, a partner in the career development, coaching and mentoring consulting firm donnerwheeler and co-author of Taking Control of Your Career: A Handbook for Health Professionals.

Mary Wheeler, RN, M.Ed., PCC, a partner in the career development, coaching and mentoring consulting firm donnerwheeler and co-author of Taking Control of Your Career: A Handbook for Health Professionals.
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