When was the last time someone sat down with you to talk about what you want from your career? Let me ask this differently: When was the last time someone sat down with you and listened while you talked about what you want from your career? If your answer is yesterday, or last week, or last month, or anytime in the last year, and you love what you do without reservation, read no further. This article is not for you.
In case you missed the memo, physicians are people who have it all. We’re lucky, we have followed a calling to a prestigious career that is personally fulfilling, and we earn great money. Our parents are proud, they may even brag a little, and some days people call us “heroes.” It could be a lot worse. And yet, perhaps you’re struggling, or suffering from click-fatigue, you’ve spent one too many hours getting prior authorizations, you love your job but the higher-ups are complaining that your performance isn’t good enough, or you’ve simply burned out. Maybe the job is great, but it’s just too many hours a week, and every time you turn around, your spouse is mad and the kids have grown an inch. At the end of the day, you’re asking, “Is this really what I signed on for?”
I’m a psychiatrist, I know how to listen, and I know how to recognize when people are sucked into patterns that are not helping them to thrive. I’m also a physician career coach who helps people work towards their potential and towards personal fulfillment.
We talk about coaching as being transformational or performance-based. Transformational coaching is for someone who is looking to make a major change, a move, an exit — either to another position, another area of medicine, or to a whole other career. Transformational coaching can also help if you’re just getting started with your career or winding down and trying to figure out what retirement should look like.
Performance coaching is what you think it is: You like what you do and want to do it better. Perhaps you need to manage your time better, figure out how not to get sucked into paperwork, get along more easily with difficult colleagues or staff, or make the job work for you after a lifestyle change.
So what do physician coaches do, and what can they do for you?
When was the last time someone sat down with you to talk about what you want from your career? Did they help you sort through what aspects of your career you like, which ones you tolerate, and which ones you’d like to run from screaming? Did they ask what you are really good at, what charges your battery, and what drains it? And did they help you figure out exactly what role you want your career to have within the context of your life, your family, your passions, and your goals?
That’s what physician coaches do. They listen, see the patterns, and guide you while you sort out how you’d like those patterns to shift.
Perhaps you’re wondering how coaching is different from psychotherapy. It’s some ways, it’s not that different, and certainly, my skills as a psychotherapist are invaluable in coaching. But there are some very important differences between coaching and therapy. People who come for coaching need to be well; they need to be motivated and willing to make changes. Unlike psychotherapy, coaching is not about diagnosis, illness, or medical treatment. Sure, you might talk about the past and how your values led you to where you are now, but coaching is not about unearthing traumas. It’s a journey that is about growth, not about repair. People who have stable mental health conditions may well benefit from coaching as an adjunct to treatment, but it’s not a substitute for psychiatric treatments.
Physician coaching has been around for a while, but it’s a field that is having a huge growth spurt. The pandemic has pushed physicians to question their careers, it’s left some burned out, and with the innovations in how we communicate, it has opened doors for everyone to explore relationships that we never thought of when medicine was wholly an ‘in-office’ experience. So if you don’t like your current career path, if it doesn’t fit into your bigger picture of living a full life, and if no one is listening, do consider seeing a physician coach.
Dinah Miller is a psychiatrist and physician coach.
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