Using Relational Coaching to Advance Equity in the Medical Field

Advancing racial and health equity requires the transformation of policies, practices, relationships, and mindsets. The Medical School has embarked on essential DEI efforts, including seeking out ideas that will lead to transformation and excellence. This invites honest reflection on how change happens. Too often, we focus on raising awareness through traditional learning outlets, such as lectures and trainings, hoping change will emerge naturally. Unfortunately, both Dr. Ibram Kendi’s book, How to Be an Anti-Racist, and behavioral sciences say more is needed. Policy changes recommended by Dr. Kendi paired with intentional efforts to integrate new practices and beliefs into our work may be more effective. Relational coaching is one proven effort to aid change as it offers intentional non-judgmental spaces to reflect on policy changes, expand the views we bring to our practices, and address internalized beliefs that may be rooted in bias and stereotypical constructs.

Relational coaching is the intentional cultivation of spaces to build trust, intentionally pause and invest in honoring our humanity. Relationships have the power to transform people and institutions as they can be catalysts for the compassionate and brave change we seek. However, not all relationships are created equal. Transformational, not transactional, relationships are foundational in supporting sustainable change at the institutional and individual levels. And yet, most of us who are socialized or acculturated to the dominant culture often rely on and find comfort in transactional relationships. When workplaces don’t intentionally prioritize transformational relationships, they exacerbate inequitable power dynamics. Only when we invest in developing a culture of belonging and trusting can we amplify our capacity for deeper learning, growth, and accountability practices. In trusting relationships, we feel more willing to take risks, connect - even with those who are different from us-, show vulnerability and accept challenges. All these ingredients are necessary when talking about advancing racial and health equity.

The relational coaching model we offer to educators has shown promising outcomes in supporting teachers to build stronger connections with their students, address their own biases and advance equitable teaching practices. This inclusive model focuses on learning and growing from and within our relationships and building relational systems of accountability to stay in the journey, especially when facing challenges. Furthermore, this model has the potential to benefit other professionals, including colleagues in the medical field. It offers powerful opportunities to expand our awareness and engage in anti-oppressive and anti-racist practices needed to make a difference for the communities we serve.

I look forward to engaging in conversations with other DEI leaders to explore this model's potential and possibilities of partnership with faculty, students, residents and staff at the Medical School.

Abigail Gadea, MSW, MPP, LISW, is the Deputy Director at the University of Minnesota's Healthy Youth Development - Prevention Research Center and the Co-developer and Director of the Whole Learners© Program. She has worked as a relational coach and trainer supporting middle school educators in building stronger relationships in their classrooms and is currently working on taking lessons learned from that model to different settings.