Coaching as a Mechanism to Challenge Surgical Professional Identities

Mary E. Byrnes, Tedi A. Engler, Caprice C. Greenberg, Brian T. Fry, Janet Dombrowski, Justin B. Dimick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background:The "surgical personality" is a mostly negative academic and cultural image of the surgeon as egotistical, paternalistic, and inflexible. Because of this image, surgeons have been viewed as resistant to change and some behaviors, vulnerability, for example, are viewed as "suspect" because they seemingly threaten professional competency. We report on exit interviews of surgeons who participated in a coaching program and demonstrate how their narratives challenge the surgical "personality" and forge an evolving and more open professional surgical identity.Methods:We interviewed n = 34 bariatric surgeons at the end of a 2-year surgical coaching program. Transcribed interviews were analyzed in NVivo, computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software. Coding of transcripts was approached through iterative steps. We utilized an exploratory method; each member of our team independently examined 3 transcripts to evaluate emergent themes early in the investigation. The team met to discuss our independent themes and develop the codebook collectively. We created a descriptive framework for our first round of coding based on emerging themes and employed an interpretive framework to arrive at our themes.Results:Three major themes emerged from our data. Participants in this study discussed the ways that participation in the coaching program initially conflicted with their identity as a competent professional. Surgeons were acutely aware of how participation might have destabilized their surgical identity because they might be viewed as vulnerable. Despite these concerns about image, surgeons found impetus for improvement because of poor outcome scores or because they desired early career affirmation. Finally, surgeons report that the safe spaces of intentional coaching contributed to their ideas about how surgeons, and ultimately surgery, can change.Conclusions:Participation in a coaching program challenged how surgeons thought of themselves in relationship to social and peer expectations. Our results indicate that surgeons do feel peer and social pressures related to identity but are much more complex and nuanced than has been previously discussed. The safe space of intentional coaching allowed participants to practice vulnerability without the pressures of sometimes caustic professional norms. Participants in this study viewed coaching as the way to improve the culture of surgery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)319-323
Number of pages5
JournalAnnals of surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • coaching
  • continuous professional development
  • culture change
  • identity
  • qualitative
  • surgeon culture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


Dive into the research topics of 'Coaching as a Mechanism to Challenge Surgical Professional Identities'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this