Irena and Bob's story

I was welcomed into Bob and Irena’s dining room, and smiled when I saw the coffee cups and plate of goodies in the middle of the table. I’d asked them not to fuss, and if this wasn’t fussing, I was impressed. Bob invited me to take a seat, and Irena joined us from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel she left on the counter.

“Irena, meet Kate. She’s changing the face of our office. I wanted her to meet you,” he said, and Irena offered a firm handshake.

“Helping to bring change to your office,” I answered. “You have hired amazing staff, and they are excited to build some new opportunities.” We sat, and Irena poured some coffee. Bob offered napkins and the plate of treats; I helped myself to crackers, cheese and some grapes.

“So, what were you hoping to talk about today?” I asked, aware that Bob had mentioned Irena was wanting to expand the focus of her busy family practice. He started.

“When Irena and I met in University, we spent a lot of time talking about how we were going to change the face of healthcare, how we would work together to help our patients. And we graduated, and we both got busy building our practices. Lately, with your coaching at the office, we’ve started to talk about it again.” Bob took a deep breath. “This time, we want to do something about it,” he finished. I glanced over at Irena. Her eyes were shining.

“That’s exciting!” I said. “Tell me about your ideas, Irena.” She chuckled.

“We were going to build an integrated practice – a space where people who were motivated to stay healthy could learn more about how to do that with us. We were going to be different. Truly ‘patient focused’.” Her voice grew thick, and she looked down at her coffee. Bob rushed in.

photo courtesy of winnod at

photo courtesy of winnod at

“It’s true. We had dreams of being different, but then when we graduated with huge loans, we had to get down to work. Then having kids distracted us – in a good way. Maybe now it’s time,” he said, putting his hand over Irena’s. “Can you help us explore this?” he asked.

“I’d be honoured,” I answered. “Why this is the right time?”

“Well, it isn’t because the student loans are paid off, but they’re manageable,” Irena said.

“And I think if we keep waiting until everything is perfect to start this, we might never do it,” Bob emphasized.

“Things are changing at my office. I need to decide whether to stay in a practice that doesn’t really meet my patient’s needs,” Irena continued. “My colleagues are pushing to increase the patient load, but aren’t wanting to do anything to streamline our practices or add value for our patients. In fact, they want to decrease some of the innovation we’ve integrated in the past few years.”

“Except Ernie. He’s with you,” Bob answered. I was making notes, and referred to them.

“So, you initially had a dream of building a practice where you could get to know your patients and really focus on a team approach to healthcare.” I looked up and smiled. “I heard a sense that you were willing to be unrelenting to get that, but that you weren’t able to start there because of practicalities. Now you want to explore those ideas again.” Bob and Irena were nodding. “And it’s important to capture some of the pieces that drove your early vision.

“I heard patient-focused. And working with motivated patients, supporting their goals.” Then Irena shared.

“It’s true. In training, I got so frustrated when doctors wouldn’t listen carefully, and now sometimes I’m doing the same thing. Rushing to diagnose based on really limited enquiry driven by a process that is narrow and efficient. Not in a good way,” she added. “I want to get to know my patients, to listen better and get some of my curiosity back.”

“And I want to know the other practitioners I’m referring patients to,” Bob continued. “I want to know that how they practice will fit in with serving our patients’ wellbeing.”

“Okay, those are your motivations. And I sense that when you weren’t yet involved in the business of medicine, you were freer to recognize what helped patients,” I said. “You weren’t constrained by billing models, or integrating your practice into a larger health care system. That’s the wisdom you bring now to your early ideas,” I said.

We talked some more about their vision, and they started to plan about what it could look like from a physical lay-out perspective. Their energy was high, and they were bubbling up with ideas, feeding one another.

“I’m noticing you two are really motivating each other, and enjoying your connection.” I said, and they grinned at each other, and then me.

“Yeah. This is fun. Even when we don’t agree on the ‘how’”, Bob said. “It’s like old times, but you’re right. Now, we’re able to gauge how well our ideas will work in the current systems,” Bob said. “And how we can integrate them into billing practices.” We kept going, exploring the “why” as well as the “how.”

“So, we’ve agreed you guys are going to do some homework. You’re going to write a short, pithy statement about what you want to achieve, and another about why. Then you’re going to make three lists.

“What are the strengths and potentials in creating a new plan,
“What are the barriers to creating a new practice together, and
“What resources are going to support you.”

“Let’s figure out why before we struggle with how. And be honest about why others aren’t already doing this in droves. Good first steps,” Irena said, and started to clear the table. Bob was still writing furiously on his pad of paper.

“I bet they are doing it!” he said. “Maybe just not here, in Canada. Or maybe they are but haven’t advertised it.”

“That’s true, dear,” Irena said. “Maybe you can do some research,” she called over her shoulder as we moved into the kitchen. Bob was heading into his home office to access the computer. “That’ll keep him busy for a while.” As she loaded the dishes in the dishwasher, I sensed she wanted to say something else to me. I paused long enough that she looked up, and I realised she was trying to find the words she wanted.

“Thank you, Kate. You’ve really helped Bob. He’d been in a professional funk for a long time, and I always felt a bit like it was my fault because I insisted we leave the city if we were going to have kids,” she said. “He’s been more energized, happier lately. I think it’s because you guys are working together,” she said.

“Thank you! I feel really privileged to help. Remember – he reached out and has done the heavy lifting. He’s working hard, and his staff are, too. I’m enjoying this work.” Bob came in through another door.

“You’re right, Love. It has been good working with Kate. I didn’t really understand what using an executive coach could do for my business, but I really couldn’t go back now,” he said. “It’s like she’s getting everyone to pull together in the office. I’d recommend her to anyone,” he said. “It might be hard to measure, but there’s a definite Return on Investment for me just in reduced stress!

“If we can actually move towards a wellness-focused practice, that would be miraculous.”

As I let myself out the front door, I smiled hearing him show Irena some write-ups on the work being done in Europe. He sounded so excited. I was looking forward to touching base with them in 10 days – they hadn’t wanted to leave it longer than that. And I smiled as I thought about how my work had changed over the past few years. From working exclusively with not-for-profits in the justice system to this. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I was excited that I would be able to report back to my coach, Frank, about where my practice was heading.

And I smiled to myself when I remembered that initially, coaching had been all about creating the huge, emotional “AHA!” moments. Now I loved working with people who were determined to find success over time – the long game, I called it.

Because I’d grown to realise that as long as you are working hard towards a goal, you will get there. Persistence and determination matter most – the “AHA!”s are useful gems to motivate and clear the path, but not the goal itself.


Meredith Egan is a certified executive coach with Wild Goat Executive Coaching. She is committed to high professional standards and a strong code of ethics. As such, confidentiality is foundational to her client work. This serial blog is a work of fiction, through and through.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.

Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.