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Coaching and mentoring in the NHS

Updated: May 31, 2023

Recently I attended a one-day training course for doctors on coaching and mentoring in the NHS (Logic Health, Wrexham Medical Institute). The aim was to help doctors working in the NHS to understand the basics of these different modalities and to be able to begin to implement them in their daily practice with patients and colleagues.

We really were starting at the beginning. I was hoping to pick up a few tips and tricks (and I did) but I was surprised at how many of the doctors in the room didn’t even know what they had come to or what coaching is. Several of them thought it had something to do with medical education: the medical equivalent of football coaching.

This can be confusing, because when the term ‘coaching’ is used in relation to sport it does generally refer to a practical form of subject-specific training. Perhaps it was understandable that some of the doctors in the room thought they were there to learn how to better support their colleagues in the acquisition of practical skills like taking blood or inserting intravenous cannulae.

In the field of diet and nutrition too, the term ‘coaching’ can be used to cover a variety of different activities. A raw food coach might find themselves advising someone in the finer points of dehydrator usage for example, or how to shop for the ripest and most perfect avocado.

None of these activities are what was meant by ‘coaching’ in the course I attended, and they are not what I mean by coaching when I talk about it on this website either, which is not to say that they are not valuable in themselves, or that I might not have cause to do them from time to time.

In the NHS, coaching and mentoring are both part of the role of the clinical or educational supervisor. They are important for helping junior colleagues to develop into fully-fledged, independent practitioners. In the field of diet and nutrition similarly, good quality coaching should help you to arrive at a place of independent confidence when it comes to implementing the diet of your choice.

Independence, confidence and choice are important words in this last sentence. Coaching does not go on forever: it is a clearly time-bound activity that ends, hopefully, with you – the coachee – ‘fledging the nest’. Like a parent bird, the coach feeds you metaphorical worms until your wings are strong enough to fly by yourself. With the right, high-quality worms, that shouldn’t take too long. We are not talking years here.

Mentoring on the other hand does tend to be a longer relationship, but it has different aims and is accompanied by a different kind of engagement. While a coach does not necessarily need to have subject-specific knowledge, a mentor tends to be someone more senior in your specific field and they are more focused on supporting your development into a leader in that field.

I have maintained and I continue to maintain that anyone who wishes to work as a coach for U-Turn Health will need to have personal experience of, and commitment to, the low fat, high raw, plant-based diet. They don’t need to be perfect – we are all on a journey – but they do have to believe in it as the final destination. I have been challenged on this and it was a good challenge. Good coaches should help you to set and achieve your own goals. It is not our job to set your goals for you.

That said, coaches and coachees in particular fields are often united in broad common goals. People who want to play better football engage football coaches, and it wouldn’t be much use engaging a swimming coach. If you want to do better at implementing the low fat, high raw, plant-based diet in your life it’s probably not going to help you to engage someone who believes in paleo.

I’m probably stating the blindingly obvious here but what we will do in a coaching session is to explore where you are right now in relation to your diet and health, and where you want to be, and to make a plan for how you are going to get there. I will be assuming that if you have engaged me, you want to get somewhere more in the direction of low fat, high raw, plant-based than you are right now.

That doesn’t mean you have to want to go ‘all the way’. It doesn’t mean I’m going to tell you that you have to do anything at all. If your aim is the best health possible for you then that is what we will go for. If your aim is good enough for you in the place where you are right now then we will go for that. It’s always a question of finding the zone of comfortable stretch: what can you do today that is a manageable and achievable challenge?

All of this sounds quite straightforward on paper doesn't it? You might reasonably ask why you should invest your hard-earned cash on this when you could quite easily sit down at home with a pen and paper, make a list of your goals, and then watch a few YouTube videos for free. Well, I am a chronic list-maker and I must have watched thousands of free (and sometimes quite confusing and even contradictory) YouTube videos about raw food by now. It has taken me ten years to get to where I am with my diet, and where I am with my diet still isn't perfect imo.

For most of the last ten years, as far as I have been aware, I have been the only person in my city even attempting to implement a low fat, high raw, plant-based diet in my life. As far as I am aware I am still the only GMC-registered medical doctor in this country. Changing our diet this fundamentally is one of the hardest things any of us will ever do. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think it was worth it, but it helps to have a bit of support along the way.

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