Alternative Nursing Career: Nurse Coaching

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, CPC



As the profession of coaching continues to develop and expand, many organizations and individuals are sharing their definition of what it means to be a coach in the 21st-century. Additionally, various organizations are jockeying for position as the certifying bodies for a plethora of established and emerging coaching specialties.

The Emergence of The Nurse Coach

Within the world of coaching, the role of the “nurse coach” has gained traction among nurses, health care leaders, and organizations within the nursing profession. Although what it means to be a nurse coach is a notion still up for debate, many nurses have already embraced coaching as a career path, or they have added coaching skills as another tool in their professional toolbox.
The International Coaching Federation (ICF), a leader in the coaching field, defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
The ICF definition hints that coaching is a partnership, and it indeed can involve a very creative process in which the coach assists clients in identifying goals, setting goals, and then examining the process by which these goals are met, not met, or refined. Unlike psychotherapy or counseling, coaches do not focus on pathology, diagnosis or treatment, but rather steer the conversation towards a goal-oriented process of self-discovery and personal change. That said, well-meaning coaches will refer clients with major mental illness or acute psychological conditions to qualified professionals for appropriate treatment.

The Nurse Coach Role

In the course of their education, training and professional experience, nurses inherently learn to use coaching techniques to empower patients towards decisions that maximize self-care and wellness. Nurses may use motivational interviewing and other techniques to assist patients in identifying their areas of challenge and develop strategies for change. Likewise, the nurse coach uses motivational techniques and skills to empower clients to set healthy and life-supporting personal and professional goals.
According to the American Holistic Nurse Credentialing Center (AHNCC), “the nurse coach role is defined as a skilled, purposeful, results-oriented, and structured relationship-centered interaction with clients provided by Registered Nurses in any setting or specialty area of practice for the purpose of promoting achievement of client goals. The Nurse Coach role integrates a holistic perspective and acknowledges that individual change begins from within before it can be manifested and sustained externally. The Nurse Coach role has roots in Florence Nightingale’s legacy, nursing history and theories, and the social sciences.”


Some nurses pursue certification as coaches through a variety of organizations that offer certification and training, including but not limited to life coaching, health and wellness coaching, spiritual coaching, group coaching, and career coaching.
Since coaching is not a profession requiring licensing or certification at this time, any individual with or without proper training can offer services as a coach. Consumers of coaching are advised to assess a prospective coach’s credentials and level of training, although some untrained coaches may indeed have personal experience and expertise gleaned through non-traditional avenues of study.

Coaching Continues to Grow

With the ever-increasing cost of healthcare, certain healthcare organizations (including insurance companies and hospitals) are hiring nurses to serve as wellness coaches for clients and patients. Coaching within the mainstream medical system is seen as a potential low-cost method for containing the cost of care, and organizations and insurance companies are realizing that nurses in particular are suited to such a role.
Meanwhile, many nurses—myself included—have sought certification and training as coaches through various organizations and certifying bodies (or not) and begun entrepreneurial ventures as professional coaches. As the field expands and the number of nurse coaches multiplies, specific trainings and certifications may be factors that distinguish one nurse coach from another, as well as the target market or client niche that individual coaches pursue.
There is no mistaking the fact that coaching has become part of the culture, and coaches are now offering a very wide variety of services and specialties. There is also no doubt that nurses have seen the writing on the wall and are jumping on the coaching bandwagon with great fervor and interest.
The coaching profession may not be for everyone, but many of us nurses are finding coaching to be a viable means to creating a stream of income apart from working within the mainstream healthcare system, while others are using coaching within that system itself.

Coaching will continue to grow, and nurses will certainly continue to explore the ways in which nursing and coaching intersect. And there is no doubt in my mind that the value of coaching for individuals, organizations and society as a whole will only continue to accelerate and expand in the years to come.

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, CPC has been a nurse since 1996. He is the well-known blogger behind the award-winning nursing blog, Digital Doorway, and is the founder of Nurse Keith Coaching and NurseKeith.com. Keith is an editorial contributor for Working Nurse Magazine and LPNtoBSNonline.org, and has been a featured author in several non-fiction nursing books by Kaplan Publishing. Keith is the co-host and co-founder of RN.FM Radio, the newest Internet radio station devoted to the nursing profession. His passion as a coach is helping nurses find balance and satisfaction in their personal and professional lives by preventing burnout and
fostering optimal health and well-being.

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