Mentor vs Coach | Which is Best To Help You Achieve Your Physiotherapy Career Goals?

Thinking of using a coach or a mentor to help develop your career? First of all you need to know the difference.

Both coaching and mentoring are terms which are used interchangably when used in a personal development context. This makes it confusing when knowing which path to follow and understanding which is best for you as both represent significantly different approaches.

Looking at Becoming a Coach or Mentor?

Both coaching and mentorship can be valuable and effective ways to transform your career and as a general rule of thumb the difference between the two approaches are:

  • Coaching is more focused and goal oriented, aimed at optimizing performance around a specific objective or goal
  • Mentoring is often focused more on long term personal and professional growth and ephasis is on fulfilling potential

It’s possible that this still doesn’t make it obvious which you should choose so lets explore both in more detail and compare and contrast the approaches.


A mentor is someone who shares their knowledge or skills with you to help you grow. The focus therefore is on personal growth and continuous improvement of an individuals capability and potential.

Therefore mentoring relationships tend to be long-term and have a borader focus when compared to coaching. Often in mentoring the mentee usually approaches the mentor although it is not always the case.

The benefits of mentoring has been demonstrated in new graduate physiotherapists with both parties benefiting. It was found that professionally the mentors had the opportunity to learn new skills from the mentees (reverse mentoring), their own skills were enhanced through the discussions and they found satisfaction in helping others which improved their own drive to improve.

The mentees also saw their clinical reasoning and decision making skills develop as well as feeling like that had better career direction and development pathways embaling them to have a better professional identity.


A coach is someone who helps you achieve a more focussed and specific goal or objective. Coaching encompasses the belief that the coachee has the solutions within them and the coach facilitates the discovery of these solutions.

As the focus is on achieveing a specific objective the relationships tend to be transactional and short-term with the coach holding the authority, as opposed to a mentorship relationship where both parties learn from each other.

Coaching has been widely researched however a lack of standardised outcome measure means the efficacy of coaching is hard to assess. The effectiveness largely depends on the nature of the goal / objective underpinning the relationship and therefore defines the success or failure of the coaching.

The general consensus is that coaching can be effective in many situations including healthcare however it is largely influenced by the buy-in from the coachee and often a concequence of a transactional reltationship.

A Dual Role – Coach & Mentor

Often a person will take on the role of both coach and mentor and it can be really difficult to know which approach to adopt and when they will be most effective. As a quick rule of thumb:

  • Does someone have the knowledge and skills but hasn’t made the connections yet? – Adopt a coaching approach.
  • Does someone lack the dots that need to be joined to make a connection? – Adopt a mentoring approach.

To know the answer to these two questions you need to listen and ask the right questions of your prospective coachee or mentee. Likewise if you’re searcing for a coach or mentor make sure they have the ability to listen to you.