The profession of coaching has been in existence for a number of years. While life coaching is the form of coaching with which the public is most familiar, nurses are now entering this burgeoning field in large numbers, in various aspects of the profession.

However, many nurses are still confused as to what nurse coaches actually do, and where they may pursue legitimate professional coach training.

What coaches do

Coaching involves a relationship in which the client works closely with a coach in order to receive support regarding different aspects of his or her life.

Coaching sessions can be conducted in person, via telephone or by using a video-calling platform. Coaches most frequently work with clients as individuals, but group coaching is an affordable and efficient way for a group to receive coaching — and peer support vis-à-vis a specific life area or goal (such as weight loss, wellness or business).

In the course of a coaching relationship, clients receive support in self-examination, the determination of goals, the actions to be taken in pursuit of those goals, as well as accountability in the process of achieving chosen outcomes. Accountability offered by the coach is powerful, since clients are more apt to follow through on their actions knowing that they will report on their progress at the next session.

Coaches may work with clients regarding health and wellness, such as weight loss or fitness. Meanwhile, other coaches focus on career, business and entrepreneurship, finances, spiritual growth, relationships or more general topics.

Coaching differs distinctly from psychotherapy in that the coach does not diagnose or treat pathology. Rather, coaches with integrity and clear professional boundaries will refer a client to a mental health or medical professional when appropriate. Meanwhile, the coaching relationship may continue while treatment is underway, or the process will be suspended until the client is stabilized.

Many coaches work privately, but it is increasingly common for coaches to be hired by large and small corporations, insurance companies and other organizations seeking to provide value to their clients. When utilized for follow-up, patient education and care management, nurses serving as health and wellness coaches can directly impact the bottom line and increase patient compliance.

Nurses enter the field

Since nurses are well-versed in health and wellness, this particular aspect of coaching is a natural fit for the nurse who would like to add coaching to his or her professional repertoire.

Until recently, the only venues to which nurses could turn for training were coaching certification programs that offered health coach education courses that were more or less geared toward healthcare professionals. However, that situation has changed, to the great advantage of nurses.

In the last few years — thanks to diligent work by forward-thinking individuals and organizations the official titles of "board-certified nurse coach" (NC-BC) and "board-certified health and wellness nurse coach" (HWNC-BC) have emerged.

Offered by the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation (AHNCC), these nurse coach certifications are the only coach training programs accepted by the Accreditation Board for Nursing Certification (ABNC) as providing and achieving the agreed nurse coach competencies established over several years of codification.

The International Nurse Coach Association (INCA) is currently the preeminent educating body of new nurse coaches, along with the Wisdom of the Whole Coaching Academy.

Opportunity knocks

A simple Internet search will yield employment postings that would have been unheard of five years ago. Health insurance companies are posting ads for positions such as "onsite nurse health coach consultant," and one hospital is currently seeking nurses to serve as "RN care coaches."

There are some nurses who are even able to work from home, providing health coaching to patients through insurance company programs geared toward decreasing ER use and hospital readmissions.

Obviously, many in the healthcare and insurance fields are taking notice that nurses are natural coaches. The nursing process lends itself beautifully to coaching techniques, and the parallels between the two are many.

There is no doubt that nurses specifically trained as coaches will be in high demand as awareness of their existence increases. Meanwhile, the credibility of nurse coaches will intensify exponentially as the nurse coach board certification pathway gains recognition and broader acceptance.

As hospitals downsize or otherwise consolidate, nurses must continue to diversify and expand their professional opportunities. Coaching is a viable and growing field that is currently attracting many nurses, and the movement toward preventive care dovetails perfectly with the goals of coaching.

Nurses with a desire to educate and empower clients and patients can find great professional satisfaction in the field of coaching, and that field will only continue to expand for decades to come. Savvy nurses in pursuit of new avenues of employment and professional growth would be wise to seize this opportunity.