Coaching vs Mentoring: When and How To Get Started
When do I need a mentor and when do I need a coach? Utah Coaching Advancement Network (UCAN) co-director Tony Tsai partners with physicians Jared Henricksen, Amy Locke and Ryan Murphy to explore the benefits of professional career coaching in carving your own career path—along with the added benefit of fostering a sense of community, purpose and belonging.

oaching and mentoring are terms that most of us are familiar with, but many don’t really differentiate between the two. What is the difference between mentoring, coaching, advising, sponsoring and counseling? When you understand the difference between all these terms and the strengths of each option, you can then select the assistance you need to help you accomplish career goals in academic healthcare. While there may be overlap between these terms, this article aims to define differences between them, especially mentoring and coaching, and specifically define what coaching can do for you. 

Mentoring versus coaching

To begin, we’ll define the difference between coaching and mentorship:  

Mentoring is a process where a faculty (or staff) are paired with more experienced faculty (or staff) in a long-term engagement. The mentor and mentee share a common path where the mentor has more experience in that path. This experience allows the mentor to provide the mentee with perspective to help the mentee develop. Mentoring may also involve other developmental activities such as advising, coaching, and sponsorship.

Coaching is a partnering with a coach and a coachee in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires a coachee to maximize their personal and professional potential. It is an interactive and inclusive experience that has not historically been part of the academic tradition. The relationship is used to strategize and develop a coachee’s professional identity and help them achieve a goal or develop a skill. With specific goal(s) in mind, coaches help outline tasks to be done by the coachee to get them to the place they want to be. Coaches and coachees may be in a similar career path, but they could also be in completely different departments, or even different industries. An engagement with a coach is usually a defined and limited time period. People use coaching to consider all sorts of issues; in this article, we are talking about career coaching.












Mentee career development

Coachee task, skill, or identity development

Advisee seeks specific guidance

Beneficiary career development that the Sponsor usually benefits from later


Mentor directed

Coachee directed

Advisor directed

Sponsor directed


Usually long-term

Usually time-limited

Single session or time-limited

One-time or long-term


Mentor gives mentee information based on their experience

Coach helps the coachee by asking clarifying questions

Advisor gives advice based on their specific knowledge

Sponsor actively advocates for Beneficiary opportunities

From Early Career Coaching Program: A Faculty Development Program of the University of Utah School of Medicine (2020).

How does coaching work at U of U Health? 

The coaching program within the University of Utah Health system is called the Utah Coaching Advancement Network (UCAN). This program trains coaches and assigns them to University employees that request coaching to advance their career. 

For faculty, professors or associate professors generally coach instructors or assistant professors. Staff also participate with a similar peer coaching model. Typically, two people from different departments are paired. This helps alleviate any power differential so the coach and coachee are less likely to feel like the actions they recommend, or steps they take to further their own career, could negatively impact the other. 

Coaching commitments begin with a six-month agreement, although the length of the coaching relationship will vary based on the needs of each person involved. Meetings between coaches and coachees are usually every two weeks but can vary from weekly to monthly based on their schedules and needs. 

The benefits of being a coach   

One of the key differences between coaching and mentoring is understanding how to help the person you’re working with. For mentors, interactions often involve sharing personal past experiences with a junior faculty member or coworker and guiding them down the same career path you took. Coaches, on the other hand, help a coachee uncover where they want to go and explore how to get there by asking questions that help a coachee discover and clarify their desires, goals, and actions.  

In his book Questions are the Answer, Hal Gregersen discusses “harnessing the power of catalytic questions”, which are questions that start to unlock or reframe situations with entirely different solutions and perspectives that make it possible for a person or team to move forward with new solutions in an effective way. Sometimes it’s hard to know what questions we should be asking, and even harder to ask those questions of ourselves and give an honest answer. Great coaches ask the right questions: 

  • Where do you want to go next in your career? 
  • What are the obstacles you might face? 
  • How will you overcome those obstacles? 
  • What if your current plan doesn’t work out, what else can you do? 
  • What are the obstacles that you might face if you go in that direction? 
  • Have you ever thought about this [new career path, new project] instead?  

Many coaches benefit from coaching because they get a chance to step out of hectic day-to-day roles and reflect on these questions while helping someone achieve their professional goals. They also learn and gain experience in understanding how to ask catalytic questions.

The benefits of being coached   

We often think of mentoring and coaching as something for younger professionals right out of school, but it has benefits in both the early and middle parts of academic careers.  

Early career coaching – find your direction 

Whether you are finishing medical school training to become an attending physician or graduating from a traditional bachelor’s degree program in a non-clinical profession, the post-education shock is similar. All graduates go from a highly structured environment where the next move is clearly defined (taking standardized exams, taking specific classes each semester, completing exams, residency rotations, and maybe a fellowship) to unstructured work.   

Each step in schooling and training has a clearly defined goal and endpoint. Then you get a job. For most people the next definitive “endpoint” is retirement, which is several decades away. But now nobody is telling you what your next move should be. It’s up to you to figure out where you want to go and how to get there. Coaching can help you regain some of that structured feeling in your career by helping you define new endpoints and new goals. 

Mid-career coaching – refocus your efforts 

For clinical and non-clinical healthcare employees alike, work is nonstop. From the moment you begin seeing patients until the paperwork is done at the end of the day, it’s “go, go, go.” A structured coaching program offers dedicated space for personal time and reflection. 

It also helps you refocus on what you really want out of your career. As you advance in a career it’s easy to get pulled in many different directions. Discussing your experiences with a qualified coach who can ask you the right catalytic questions will help you figure out which experiences are most meaningful and interesting.

Then you can take your career in the direction that sparks your passion. 

The best part? Coaching is for everyone   

U of U Health offers two established early- and mid-career tracks for faculty, and coaching services for faculty and staff within the University of Utah Health system. The coaching program provides a way to help people discover what they love, gain a sense of belonging, and feel empowered to prosper in their careers. 


Jared Henricksen

Associate Professor, Division of Critical Care, Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah School of Medicine, University of Utah Health

Amy Locke

Family Physician, Chief Wellness Officer and Executive Director, Resiliency Center, University of Utah Health

Ryan Murphy

Hospitalist and Associate Editor, Accelerate, University of Utah Health

Antonius Tsai

Director of Leadership Development, University of Utah Health

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