My Calling to be a Peer Coach

Posted on February 28, 2024 by Derek B. Johnson MD, FACS, CPEC

Updated February 28, 2024

I am a surgeon and a coach. And while I don’t specifically work with a sports team, I do work with other physicians as a peer coach, a trained partner who helps physicians become more successful.

Peer coaching isn’t therapy. It doesn’t treat psychological pain or trauma or work to address underlying barriers to optimal living. Rather, a peer coach asks powerful questions to help clients discover, or rediscover, their own personal resources, resources they can use to improve their communication skills, manage stress and in other ways be the best people they can be.


To Talk Things Through

While surgery is my main pursuit, I consider coaching as much of a calling as medicine. I came to it after personal struggles that led to my being coached through  VITAL WorkLife’s Peer Coaching program.

There was a time in my life where I was dealing with stress at work and stress at home in my marriage. I participated in peer coaching and it was really helpful to talk things through, to get support so issues at home didn't flow into work and issues at work didn't flow into my home life. I wanted to understand how best to manage stress and make communication improvements.

The process worked, the experience was very impactful and I knew I could be a better me. This led me to think how I could help others—so I started to get some training.

I studied conflict resolution and mediation—and also signed up for coach training with the Georgia-based CaPP Institute (the acronym stands for Coaching and Positive Psychology). I completed the training and began practicing my second calling in 2019, mainly working with physician clients referred through VITAL WorkLife.

Complementary Callings

How do my two callings support each other?

My medical training and experience mean I have an instant understanding of the requirements and pressures under which my clients work and that helps save time and build trust. At the same time, coaching has benefits for me. It’s almost as therapeutic for me as it is for my clients and I can watch people transform. Some clients I've had use the exact same words I used to use in describing my own problems. I know where they are because I've been there. And then, as we go on with their sessions, I really enjoy seeing them start to recognize they could do this better.

For more on what coaching is and how it can help physicians and the organizations in which they work, read my recent article available here.

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