Coaches are seeing more opportunities than ever, including educators and administrators who choose to expand their know-how into adjacent industries of healthcare, EdTech, human resources, and wellness organizations.
The higher education community recognizes the importance of a carryover model, demonstrated by Vanderbilt’s coaching program for the Center for Student Wellbeing inside their nursing school. Additionally, Harvard Medical School is exploring the need for certified health and wellness coaches in hospitals across the country.
Education and healthcare continue to strengthen their sometimes unintentional and coincidental relationship, often borrowing approaches to support better outcomes.
To gain a perspective on the approach, this reporter sat down with Integrative Nutrition Certified Health Coach, Kevin Ellis, a.k.a the Bone Coach, to learn more about how education has evolved coaching, as a profession, from the traditions of the athletic field to careers of study and impact.
Ellis was diagnosed with osteoporosis at the young age of 30, decades before its typical onset. Left with shrinking bone density and a lifetime of pharmaceutical dependence, he took ownership of his health and, in turn, developed a coaching network to address solutions more holistically.
Rod Berger: Describe your diagnosis and your journey during the initial stages?
Kevin Ellis: It’s pretty shocking when someone hears that a 30-year-old male has osteoporosis. Very weak porous bones are usually associated with someone later in life. It’s a more common condition found in women 55 years and much older. It’s very uncommon for a 30-year-old active male who’s a former Marine to be diagnosed with the condition.
I had suffered from celiac disease for years, where gluten damages the villi in the intestine. I couldn’t absorb nutrients and my body started raking those nutrients like calcium from my bones to serve other purposes. My body was tapping into its own reserves in my bones, causing osteoporosis in my early 30s.
All the doctors failed to recognize the connection and thanks to a physician’s assistant recommending a bone density exam, it was discovered. After doctors painted a future filled with broken bones and medication, I realized I needed to figure some things out.
I started down this path of reading, researching and consulting with many different people. I needed a plan in place to be there for my wife and kids to have an active future. I made progress, improving my health and my bones.
Berger: When we think about healthcare, or our own health, there’s so much education that goes into it. I wonder if we have the correct information to understand and comprehend our bodies and what proper functioning looks and feels like.
Ellis: Pharmaceutical intervention may address the symptom but might not address the underlying root cause. I took the holistic approach, addressing bone loss issues to get the right plan in place. I became an integrative nutrition coach and started coaching people one-on-one. I noticed similar issues with diet, digestion, absorption, lab testing, stress, sleep and exercise.
I then realized that this could be repeated for multiple people for greater benefit and turned it into a program that we call the Stronger Bone Solution. I brought in a team of experts, highly credentialed people that are some of the best in their fields. I mentioned how an audience of underserved people would benefit from building stronger bones and would they want to be a part of it. These experts were immediately on board. Many of them were in women’s health and understood the need.
Berger: It says a lot that these individuals, already the best in their fields, found your mission and story so compelling to dive into the mix.
Ellis: The team is fantastic. Many are in the natural health field. There’s an educator at the Institute for Functional Medicine, a functional medicine practitioner, a doctor of physical therapy, who’s an adviser to the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), and the American Bone Health organization. We have a Harvard Ph.D. who focuses on stress and sleep, a dietitian, who’s also a chef and a university professor, and then we have a whole team of coaches underneath.
We’ve helped people in over 1,500 cities worldwide and thousands of people. Our business and coaching programs are on an upward trajectory. Many people understand there is more to it than just what’s in a pill.
Connection to Marines and Father
Berger: Not everyone is driven to take what they’ve learned and apply it to help others. Is there something in your DNA going back to when you chose to be in the Marine Corps that’s always had that element of service inside you?
Ellis: My health journey started before I was even born. When my mother was five months pregnant, my father was told he had cancer and two months after I was born, he passed away. He was 35 years old. I had this fear that I was going to follow in his footsteps to an early grave and not have the opportunity to watch my kids grow up and experience the joys of being a dad.
My father was a Marine, survived combat in Vietnam, but ended up getting cancer from Agent Orange used in the war. I went into the Marines because I thought it would make my dad proud. But also do good in the world and help people. I was in the Marine Corps for five years and brought a very close personal connection to my father, a way to say goodbye to him. After Afghanistan and Somalia, I decided it was time to move forward with my life and went to school to get an education. But unfortunately, that was when my health took a turn for the worse.
The Marine Corps provided a foundation for me to create a business that would reach, help and serve people.
Coaching Models and Mentoring
Berger: The coaching model is growing in many areas, from education and healthcare to executive coaching and personal coaching. Please talk about the “why” you feel a coaching model works well with traditional practice inside medicine?
Ellis: Coaches compress time and you will always want to work with someone who condenses the process. I saw an intervention gap in osteopenia and osteoporosis and I decided to utilize the skills I attained and apply them broadly.
I’m very oriented around systems, processes, and templates. The idea with our clients and coaching teams is to eliminate inefficiencies that they may experience in a conventional model where you go to your doctor, spend 15 minutes, book another appointment for eight months to a year out, without needed support along the way.
In our model, we lay out a plan for the individual. Then, every day of the week, we give support along the way with the experts who know how to help you best in a round-robin fashion. It changes the way people get information. When you can get people the correct information they need faster, it has the potential to achieve faster results.
Berger: It feels like going through this kind of coaching process would help develop a sense of agency. Is that something you have noticed?
Ellis: Good coaches don’t create dependencies; they empower, educate and help you become your own best advocate. A doctor can cause dependency for some people. A coach helps with concurrencies. It’s about reducing dependencies and increasing concurrencies to move a person forward on their best health path.
Most physicians are not people who came into their practice to just prescribe medication and not care about the patient. On the contrary, most want to help people. So we avoid creating a situation where this adversarial relationship of us vs. them mentality exists.
We work together to create a partnership in our healthcare. A doctor may have an education or training in a specific area and help with critical needs. But there are other things they’re not going to help you with during a 15-minute consultation. We give our clients tools to share with their physicians to make bone health support easy, including tests to run. We add the science and when results come back, we give clients the guides and tools to sit down with their physician. It’s a partnership with the physician.
Mentor a Million
Berger: How do you see serving underserved communities? Is there even more opportunity to dive in even deeper with this kind of support?
Ellis: I’m in the process of developing a program called Mentor a Million. I want to mentor a million kids and teach them how to be good, kind, contributing members of society and teach them good values. I want my business, Bone Coach, to create internship opportunities for these kids so they can work in a purpose-driven organization that’s contributing to the betterment of society.
It’s my long term vision and it’s all going to come together. I can see it clear as day. In my eyes, I’m already mentoring a million kids, but we just haven’t crossed paths yet.
According to the 2021 U.S. Health Coaching Market Report the health and wellness industry market has ballooned to $4.2 trillion supporting an exploding market of health coaches to the tune of over $7 billion.
The Annals of Family Medicine projects a shortfall of primary care physicians of nearly 50,000 providers by 2025. The industry is starting to explore health coaching not as a substitute, but as a vital response to expanding health care needs.
Schools and universities have been found to be feeder systems into this sector. Education, writ large, will most likely be looked at as the training grounds to support new interventions and career pathways.
Ellis might just be a reflection of a person and career path that current students explore in the future supporting industry personnel shortages and individual health needs across the country.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.