Why physicians should have courageous conversations

Many doctors make the decision to pursue a career in medicine in their youth.  They have an experience that points them in this direction.  And once the decision is followed by a firm commitment, we seldom change the course.  Medicine here I come! At that age and with such limited life experience, it’s impossible to truly grasp the depth of the commitment to this career.

Becoming a doctor is not a career decision, it’s a life decision

Becoming a doctor is a passion, a life calling.  It is a life decision, the impact of which you don’t fully comprehend when you are young and dreaming.  This distinction is critical.  To create the life and medical career that speaks to your soul, you have to be willing to shift from the idea that you are embarking on a career path and understand that it is an integral part of your life.  When you do that, you can put in place the support systems you need to live your life on this journey.

Instead, the process of becoming a doctor has us focus solely on medicine. This leaves us feeling as if life is put on hold while engaging in the rigorous education and training required for success. We watch as peers who pursued non-medical careers get married, start families, and take the next steps in their lives.  When we look at our own life, it feels like sacrifice.  We are in a holding pattern, waiting for medical school graduation, or trying to figure out which is the best year during residency or fellowship training to have a baby.  When we make the shift in understanding that a career in medicine is a life decision, then it’s an investment in life rather than a sacrifice.

 Where do you start?

You start by having courageous conversations that go beyond figuring out which opportunities to pursue to position you for the next level in your career.  You start by having conversations that extend beyond medicine and focus on life.  These are the conversations that help doctors connect the dots and bring together all aspects of who they are.

We are not typically having these types of conversations with medical colleagues and mentors because they might reveal our vulnerability or our desires beyond the medical arena.  And as a result of not having these real conversations, doctors end up trying to figure out their lives and careers by themselves, leaving them feeling disconnected and disjointed from each other and their own selves.

What defines a courageous conversation?

Finding the right person to share your journey and have courageous conversations brings the clarity we seek for 2020.  It requires confidentiality and connection so that doctors can allow themselves to be open, honest, and vulnerable in order to get the most benefit from it.  It goes deeper than most mentor-mentee relationships.

Courageous conversations can change your life if you let them.  They allow you to brainstorm and to explore possibilities for life and career.

Courageous conversation should:

  • Stretch you beyond your comfort zone
  • Take you to your next level
  • Inspire you
  • Boost your confidence
  • Elicit a visceral reaction that makes you want to learn more
  • Define your next action step
  • Leave you with a sense of peace as you connect to your calling
  • Create opportunities to learn how to embrace and incorporate all parts of your life into this journey in medicine.

Putting it in practice: a doctor’s case study 

Dr. H was excited about the next step in her career.  Her education and training are completed. But something was not feeling quite right.  She was about to embark on the greatest change in her personal and professional life. She found herself struggling with trying not to be influenced by the experiences that had left her jaded and wondering if medicine was really the place she wanted to spend the rest of her life.  She needed to talk it out and gain a new perspective.  Through coaching, Dr. H was able to move out of her cloud of confusion, clarify her desires, and align with her calling and the parts of medicine that spoke to her soul.

Today Dr. H uses the awareness that medicine is not a separate entity but is part of her life to make decisions that integrate the two.

Stephanie Wellington is a physician and can be reached at Nurturing MDs.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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