Easter Eggs and #MedEd Coaches

By Mike Gisondi

The Easter Egg-stravaganza

Several years ago, I took my then 5 year-old daughter to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois (USA) for the annual Easter Egg-stravaganza. It is a wonderful event that includes brunch with Easter Bunny, games, candy, and one of the very best Easter egg hunts that I have ever seen. The area where they hide the eggs is in a special section of the zoo, across a wooden bridge, roped-off by a big yellow ribbon throughout the morning. After a ceremonious countdown, Easter Bunny cuts the ribbon and hundreds of children race across the bridge with their Easter baskets in hand, to start searching for eggs.

That year, several important challenges complicated what would have been an otherwise perfect holiday tradition. First, I took my daughter to the zoo alone that day – if she had not collected her target number of eggs, I would have had to manage a potential Easter meltdown all on my own. Second, even at her young age, it was obvious that my daughter had a competitive spirit and that she didn’t like to lose. And importantly, I observed that most of the other children lining up for the egg hunt were older, taller, and likely much faster than my child. So, what was a protective father to do? What would you do?

Obviously, my mind went directly to the Cornucopia scene in The Hunger Games.

As the crowd began counting down, 10…9…8…, I quickly explained, “Do you see all those eggs just across the bridge? Don’t go for those eggs. Run past those eggs, as fast as you can, all the way to the back of the zoo. The other kids will stop at the first eggs they see. Don’t be tempted. Run. Run as fast as you can.” Though I haven’t been a Hunger Games Tribute myself, I would like to think that I’m smart enough that I wouldn’t stop at the Cornucopia.

Easter Bunny cuts the ribbon, mayhem ensues, and I see my daughter take off. I can barely keep up. And as I look to the distance, I see my daughter in her bright pink jacket run the length of two football fields to the far end of the park. When the other children finally arrived there, she had so many eggs that she was stuffing them in her pockets, her basket completely full.

Ask my daughter what word she learned on Easter that year and she will smartly tell you, “Strategy”. I could not be prouder.

Easter Eggs and #MedEd Coaches.jpg

Why did my daughter collect so many Easter Eggs? She had a coach.

There are two common definitions of the English word, strategy. Strategy is most eloquently, ‘the art of war’. While the Easter Egg-stravaganza wasn’t exactly war, my off-the-cuff parenting advice certainly rang of that definition. Instead, a more inclusive and positive definition of strategy is, ‘the planned use of resources in order to create a desired outcome’.

I sometimes share the egg hunt story with senior medical students during their preparation for the residency Match, urging them to develop a strategy of their own. The desired outcome for these students is to match at their top choice residency program. Those students who I have observed to be the most successful in this process sought advice from experienced and accessible faculty coaches.

Effective coaches:

  1. Understand how a game is played
  2. Assess the strengths of those they coach relative to their peers
  3. Discuss desired outcomes and goals ahead of time
  4. Help to set realistic expectations
  5. Provide a strategic approach tailored to individual goals and abilities.

In the egg hunt, I coached my daughter to compete against the natural abilities of the older children in order to reach her goal of a full Easter basket. In the Match, we coach our students to select appropriate programs based on a review of their credentials and a discussion of their career goals. Like all job searches, the Match is a competition that requires a deliberate and strategic approach. Faculty coaches can provide students important insights that offer a competitive advantage.

Coaches are trusted because they are experienced and knowledgeable. As faculty coaches, we have a responsibility to provide accurate assessments and information to our trainees. Advice given to our trainees must be factual and grounded in evidence, rather than simply opinion alone. We sometimes conflate the activities and goals of mentorship, advising, consulting, sponsorship, and coaching – both inside and outside of medicine. Adapt your approach with trainees to that of a coaching framework, when appropriate. I distinguish these different roles as follows:

Mentors participate in a longitudinal relationship with a trainee over many years. They may initially be paid in a traditional teacher-student dyad, but over time the relationship transcends the classroom and becomes much deeper.

Advisors are content experts that often have brief relationships with students, generally the length of a course or program of study. Advisors are often rich sources of general information, even if their trainees have widely variable skills and needs.

Coaches are process experts that have significant experience in very specific domains. A coach is charged with performance improvement using specific timelines and measures of success. Coaching can vary from a brief, unemotional, and transactional relationship with a trainee to one that is longitudinal, deeply personal, and at times paternalistic.

Outcomes-based educational programs are well-suited to faculty coaching. A recent article in Academic Medicine by Rassbach and Blakenburg describes the successful implementation of a faculty coaching initiative in a pediatrics residency program. The faculty coaches utilized direct observation of residents, facilitated reflection, feedback, and goal-setting. Residents with coaches achieved better progress along the Milestones than those who weren’t coached.

Medical schools can benefit from engaged coaches… just like egg hunts.

Featured image via happy-easter.info

Image via Mike Gisondi (personal photo)