Coaching Spotlight:Derek Johnson

Derek Johnson is a general surgeon at Presbyterian Health Services in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a Certified Personal & Executive Coach who coaches other physicians.

What makes a surgeon become a coach?

Coaching is a tool that can transform outcomes in healthcare. That’s how Derek Johnson is using his coach certification to help others in his profession who need support from someone who understands.

He said many physicians need help and support, but there aren’t many options for them, especially from other surgeons. Derek coaches physicians and other clientele, and also works as a consultant with Vital Work Life, a Minneapolis-based business that focuses on physician wellness.

“A lot of physicians don’t have a good support network,” he said. “There is a lot of burnout amongst physicians, different challenges and understanding the next steps in their career. There’s been changes in medicine and an increased focus on physician wellness. I decided to look into coaching for that reason, to help other physicians who may have communication challenges or are dealing with stress and burnout.”

What Derek liked about the Coaching and Positive Psychology (CaPP) Institute was the idea of scientific-based coaching rooted in positive psychology and its ability to help others. He also mentioned that the CaPP Institute is where he learned the importance of powerful questions.

“The clients have the answers, you just have to help them get them out of themselves,” he said.

Derek developed a program for new physicians (residents in training) that focuses on communication, professionalism, and interpersonal skills, which help them with bedside manner before they are in practice. He also gives a presentation to medical staff with a focus on helping them develop their emotional intelligence.

“I feel like I have grown quite a bit and understanding my strengths was really important,” he said. “I’ve seen how some of my strengths can become a weakness for me if I’m not careful. At the Coach Training Intensive (CTI), they talked to us about using our strengths with purpose to overcome weaknesses, which I think is what more people need to do. People often feel like they don’t really have strengths until they are pointed out to them.”

Derek said he has found coaching to be extremely rewarding. Having a shared perspective from the medical surgical side is helpful to his clients, but what he learned through coaching was to help clients to pull those issues out and set goals and move forward.

“I think there’s a trend in recognizing the importance of physician wellness,” he said. “Physicians always figure they never get sick and need to be on call 24/7. They’ve been neglected for a long time focusing on their own personal health and mental health. Some have challenges that they really need to support. We need to make sure people are caring for themselves, but sometimes people just need support when they feel like they are alone in the fight.”

When he decides to pull back from surgery, Derek wants to continue to help other physicians by continuing to coach after he retires. In addition to physicians, he enjoys working with those in the business community to help figure out their business plans.

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