By: DAVID RAMSEY & Dr. Beth Pedersen

Spring 2020 Issue

The COVID-19 crisis has created an urgent need for leaders to support their communities in any way possible. Healthcare workers are especially in need of support, including front-line physicians and other first responders.

Edmonton Oliver Primary Care Network (EOPCN), *a multimillion-dollar not for profit organization providing primary care services for patients in the Edmonton area through 220 Physicians and 100 clinical service professionals, is taking an innovative approach during this time to support its physician members.

As Executive Director of EOPCN, I've engaged Executive Coaches to support their network of family doctors to protect their own wellness, prevent burnout and address the unusual stressors of adapting to alternate practice formats and compensation. Member physicians can access 30-45 minute coaching session via telephone, video conferencing and once the pandemic is over, face to face as well.

This initiative provides immediate, focused coaching.  Our goal is not to provide counselling or advice but to give the physician an opportunity to use the coach as a sounding-board and thinking partner, assisting them to develop strategies and action plans to support them as they respond to this crisis.

Some examples of challenges to discuss with a coach may include: work/life balance; strategies to maintain wellness, improve communication, manage conflict; develop action plans to work with teams to better support physicians; managing your workforce in a downturn; building for growth when there is an economy upturn; methods for returning to previous work type and pace after a significant change.

Three reasons why focused coaching can help:

1. It can reduce the feelings of isolation and loneliness, which is particularly dangerous in a challenging situation.
Doctors are used to working independently; being good at solitary work is a skill that enables them to make it through medical training.  While many doctors share clinical settings and occasionally patients, for the most part physicians manage their own practices and care for their patients independently within their scope of practice. 

This independence, in combination with a career that focuses on taking care of others at the expense of their own health, makes it challenging for physicians to connect with other physicians on anything more than a professional level.  This isolation and loneliness increase the risk of burnout.  Add to that a pandemic where social isolation is imperative, and the nature of managing patients is changed.  Many doctors may feel that their experiences are unique. Coaching can help physicians realize that they are not alone and help them develop strategies to mitigate the isolation.

2. Helps to focus on the important issues
In a crisis, with rules and recommendations changing daily, it is easy to get stuck in the practicalities of how to manage and to feel overwhelmed by the volume of information being sent each day.  Coaching can help physicians prioritize their actions and create individual strategies for managing the voluminous information.  Further, it can help physicians to align with their values and vision, which can bring calm and acceptance within a tumultuous time.

3. Provides a sounding board to develop longer term strategies
It is necessary to recognize and act on our current crisis.  Actions that are critical to simply surviving during this pandemic must take priority. However, things will eventually return to a semblance of normal.  The return to normal may be as challenging as our current transition has been.  It will be important to prepare for the transition back.  Coaching can help physicians plan for this transition, to create longer term strategies for personal wellness and professional success and to figure out individual and systemic clinical practice activities.

Coronavirus has rocked our world personally, professionally and economically.  One of the best strategies for managing in a crisis is to rely on a support network. This is made more difficult by the physical isolation required to contain the virus.  It is important to combat the isolation and maintain mental health for physicians so that they can perform their clinical duties.  It is also important for physicians to find strategies for managing a clinical practice and protect their own physical wellness. 

Finally, this isolation has created periods of quiet as we spend more time at home.  This time can be used for reflection and planning for the transition back to face-to-face clinical care, meetings and social activities. For physicians who want to address these issues, coaching can provide a safe, confidential, non-judgemental space to explore with an experienced coach who acts as a sounding board and asks challenging questions to help empower physicians to achieve.


EOPCN has entered into an engagement with two Executive Coaches with experience in physician coaching, Dr. Beth Pedersen and Heather Toporowski.

*Primary Care Networks are an Alberta provincial initiative to improve the delivery of primary care; each Primary Care Network (PCN) is an independent business, jointly owned by family doctors in an area and Alberta Health Services and is funded by the Alberta government. The Edmonton Oliver PCN supports the doctors who work in the Central Edmonton area, often with the most vulnerable populations.

David Ramsey is Executive Director of Edmonton Oliver Primary Care Network, a Certified Management Consultant and an accredited executive coach. He has worked as a consultant for 15+ years with a range of sophisticated clients in the public and private sectors helping them achieve results through breakthrough strategies. Please feel free to connect with him: dramsey@eopcn.ca

Dr. Beth Pedersen is a surgeon and accredited executive coach. Please direct any questions to melizabethpedersen@gmail.com