Coaching vs. Mentoring: Providing the Right Guidance at the Right Time

Effective coaches and mentors can help create successful, well-rounded radiologists

Miles Conrad
Jay Parikh
Anthony Nguyen

A coach or mentor can play a critical part in helping younger trainees and more experienced physicians obtain their goals as radiologists and health care providers.

Although some people may refer to coaching and mentoring interchangeably, key differences set them apart, according to Miles B. Conrad, MD, MPH, a clinical professor of radiology at the University of California San Francisco and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center and co-director of the UCSF Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia Center of Excellence.

Coaching Medical Students Through Early Years

Dr. Conrad is the first radiologist to take part as a coach in the UCSF School of Medicine Bridges Curriculum. The core of this 4-year program is the integration of physician-educators from various medical specialties with a group of 6 medical students that they are assigned to for 4 years. The role of the coach is to support students, provide mentorship, and lead weekly didactic small group sessions on a wide range of topics including history and physical exam instruction with standardized patients, professionalism, and interpersonal and communication skills.

Coaches also lead their students through a health systems improvement project in their own specialty during their first year. In addition to the weekly meetings, coaches and students also have regular one-on-one meetings with planned agendas that address that students’ individual learning needs and any obstacles they are facing.

“The individual meetings are focused on reviewing academic performance, practicing critical reflection and tailoring professional and personal support,” Dr. Conrad said. “The student writes SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Based) goals and we assess the student’s success in achieving these goals going forward.”

Watch Dr. Conrad and his medical student, Anthony Nguyen, discuss their coaching relationship:

Before becoming a coach, Dr. Conrad participated in workshops offered at UCSF including diversity equity and inclusion training, communication skills, and well-being. Coaching also requires him to prepare for weekly teaching sessions. Dr. Conrad typically spends two nights each week studying material and preparing lessons.

“It is definitely a job that requires extensive preparation and energy investment, but it is worth it,” Dr. Conrad said. “It is a privilege to take part in early medical education because this is when educators can have the greatest positive impact on student behaviors, well-being and professionalism.”

Like UCSF, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center also has a robust coaching program, according to Jay R. Parikh, MD. Dr. Parikh is a professor of radiology and the division wellness lead in the division of diagnostic imaging at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“Our institution uses CoachRICE, a leadership training program offered by Rice University, to certify physicians to become coaches,” Dr. Parikh said. “In partnership with Rice University’s The Doerr Institute for New Leaders, the CoachRICE program offers 70 hours of training toward certification with the International Coaching Federation (ICF).”

Mentoring More Seasoned Trainees As They Find Their Role

Within the radiology department at UCSF, mentor-mentee relationships are between senior and junior attendings who are typically not from the same section, Dr. Conrad said. These types of relationships are based more on providing professional and personal support, strategizing careers, and dealing with academic and clinical politics.

“I am an interventional radiology physician, but I mentor someone in the musculoskeletal section,” Dr. Conrad explained. “We meet occasionally in an informal way and without a specified schedule, mostly on an as-needed basis. I also mentor several medical students, residents and fellows in unofficial capacities.”

Unlike coaching, mentoring may not have a specific goal, Dr. Parikh noted.

“Mentoring focuses more on giving advice and guidance, and on using personal experiences to motivate and guide the mentee,” he said. “You are much more of a sounding board for where they want to go — or think they want to go — and what they should be doing or who else they should be talking with to get there.” 

Watch Dr. Parikh discuss the importance of mentoring during a radiologist's career:

Anthony Nguyen, third-year medical student at UCSF (left) with his coach, Miles B. Conrad, MD, MPH

Getting the Timing Right

According to Dr. Conrad, it’s ideal to begin coaching on a medical student’s first day of training, and to begin mentoring a junior attending as soon as they are hired.

“Medical students face extraordinary stressors — such as having imposter syndrome, which makes them feel lost or overwhelmed — that can distract them from learning and lead to anxiety and depression,” he said. “It is important for students from day one to feel welcome, included, and know that they are cherished. UCSF has a diverse student body. It is natural for students to be intimidated by the medical hierarchy, which is dominated by people who may not look like them or who are from different backgrounds. Coaches may have to work hard to overcome this discordance, particularly early on, by placing inclusivity at the center of the relationship and earning their trust.”

One of Dr. Conrad’s coaching trainees is Anthony Nguyen, a third-year medical student at UCSF. He agrees that trust has to be at the foundation of a coaching relationship.

“As a trainee, I’ve found the concepts of being able to trust someone whole - heartedly, having someone to show me the ropes, and having someone I can turn to in difficult times is essential to my journey in medicine,” Nguyen said. “There are many critical moments that define how we grow, and Dr. Conrad continues to push me toward the right direction and is someone I can turn to when times get tough.”

Dr. Parikh mentors several junior and mid-career faculty from across his division as well as from across the country in multiple radiology departments. Coaching and mentoring junior faculty is an important part of fostering new leaders in radiology, noted Dr. Parikh.

Dr. Conrad also noted that mentoring is important in mid-career professional development, especially since burnout is a constant threat during stressful times and professional support can make the difference in keeping a physician on the right track.

“Mid-career physicians may need mentorship to become more selective with what they take on, and encouragement to pursue depth, rather than scatter themselves too thin,” he said. “In my opinion, it is the duty of mid-career radiologists to provide mentorship to junior physicians.”

Reaping the Rewards

Coaches and mentors also learn a great deal from the experience, said Dr. Conrad, who noted that becoming a coach has made him a more knowledgeable physician and a more empathetic and humbler person, physician, father and husband.

“I have joined a community of likeminded physician educators who inspire and teach me every day,” Dr. Conrad added. “I’ve become a more innovative, effective educator because of coaching.”

Nguyen would agree that receiving additional support during medical training has been beneficial.

“I believe that we grow by learning from our patients, our peers and our teachers. Coaches, among the many physicians and professors I have met along my training, have been some of the strongest mentors I have ever had. These are people who are exemplary teachers, advocates for students, and dedicated individuals to the cultivation of future generations of health care professionals,” Nguyen said. “Meeting students where they are, coaches like Dr. Conrad are exemplars in helping students transition to medical school, navigate the humanistic experiences and challenges in medicine and serve as role models for what it means to be an excellent doctor.”

Mentorship is a dynamic process, according to Dr. Parikh, and being a men - tor has taught him just as much he has taught to his mentees.

“As I enter the latter third of my career, I have personally found it to be a source of positive energy to be involved in mentorship of junior faculty,” Dr. Parikh said. “I am profoundly grateful to many mentors in my early career who unselfishly invested in me and inspired me. The proudest outcome as a mentor is to see the mentees follow in your footsteps and want to pay it forward by mentoring the next generation of radiologists.”

For More Information

Access the RSNA 2021 session (S4-CNPM04), “Mentorship, Sponsorship and Coaching: Not Just for Early Career” on demand at

Read previous RSNA News articles on wellness, coaching and mentoring: