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Reflecting on the role of coaching in tackling barriers to career progression

23 Oct 2023

In September 2022, the College launched a coaching skills training pilot with the aim of tackling differential attainment and ensuring greater representation of minoritised doctors in the workforce. A year on, RCOG Clinical Fellow Dr Farah Siddiqui reflects on what she has learnt through her involvement with the initiative and the role of coaching in removing barriers to career progression.

My first experience of coaching

In 2019, I was recommended an apprenticeship in senior leadership and management. This included participating in coaching sessions which focused on setting goals, identifying strengths and weaknesses and developing strategies for personal and professional growth.

During the first session, the coach asked about my future aspirations and how fulfilled I was in my current role. I admitted to feeling exhausted, while others around me seemed to be able to balance their workload and were being recognised for their work. I felt that I was not achieving this, even though I was working to the best of my ability to provide the best possible care for my patients.

The coach prompted me to reflect on why I felt I needed to work so hard, wondering if external factors such as societal pressures or past experiences played a role in shaping this belief. By working through these self-limiting beliefs, I was able to build up my confidence and address the misconceptions and assumptions that were holding me back. As an Asian doctor myself, engaging in these coaching sessions led me to reflect on the challenges doctors from ethnic minority backgrounds experience working in the NHS.

Taking part in the RCOG coaching programme

Having had this first-hand experience of the benefits of coaching, I applied for the RCOG coaching skills training programme in 2022 – an initiative which would teach me the skills necessary to coach doctors facing barriers to their career progression, including workplace discrimination. I was selected to take part in the programme alongside 11 other senior doctors working in O&G across the UK.

The RCOG launched the programme as part of their work to address disparities amongst minoritised doctors, a priority for College President, Dr Ranee Thakar. By tackling a wide range of factors which can affect career progression, the ultimate ambition of the programme was a greater representation of minoritised doctors in the workforce.

The course was facilitated by Management Futures on behalf of the College. We learned active-listening skills, how to set up a coaching session and how to use the GROW model – a coaching technique based around a set of questions that can be used to frame the conversation and guide it towards a positive outcome. Our cohort had the opportunity to practise with one another, enabling us to develop our skills in a safe and supportive environment.

As part of the training, we were tasked with finding other doctors to coach outside of the programme sessions, or ‘coachees’. One of my coachees was a doctor on the O&G training programme who was looking for more gynaecological operating experience. The coaching sessions helped the coachee think of strategies to achieve this goal. It also emerged that previous experiences and poor advice had left them feeling isolated and unsure of how to advance their career.

In my role as a coach, I utilised the techniques and skills we had acquired in training (for example, role-playing a scenario with a College Tutor). At the next session, my coachee felt re-energised. They explained that they had spoken to their college tutor who agreed that, as a senior trainee, they should be having regular theatre sessions, and worked with them to identify which sessions would be most useful.

The role of coaching in tackling differential attainment

Unfortunately, it is rare that everyone in the workplace feels truly heard all of the time. However, with the right coaching support and the time to be listened to, I have been impressed by how resourceful doctors are in finding the solutions to challenges they had previously not known how to tackle. I learnt a lot from the programme, and I feel that coaching can effectively help doctors to reassess their priorities, challenge assumptions and rewrite the narrative about their career aspirations and goals.

By training more doctors to be coaches and advocates for fairness, I hope that future generations of obstetricians and gynaecologists can contribute to a more diverse and equitable workforce. I believe that, over time, this support has the potential to improve patient care, reduce health inequalities and empower doctors to excel in their careers, whilst serving as role models and advocates for underrepresented communities.

Find out more about the RCOG’s ambition for race equality.

Read more about the launch of the RCOG coaching skills training pilot.

  • Careers and workforce
  • Gynaecology
  • Pregnancy and birth