Chances are every doctor, nurse, physician’s assistant, allied health professional, dentist or even your veterinarian went into health care because they wanted to help others and make a difference. They entered their fields as well-intended, compassionate individuals. Unfortunately, the current climate of medicine has created an environment of burnt out, stressed and marginalized providers.
Arthur Caplan, the world-renowned medical ethicist goes so far as to say “physician burnout is a public health crisis.” Sadly, I know this to be true. As a primary care physician who is now a CPCC, I was miserable in medicine. Fortunately, I found a coach who coached physicians making transitions from clinical to non-clinical careers. Working with her changed my life and helped me reconnect with who I am and who I wish to be.
It’s worthwhile to note, that when I first started working with her, I had no idea what a coach was and never envisioned that I would become a coach. Moreover, when I began coach training, I said that the one niche I didn’t want to specialize in was health care. Ironically, but not surprisingly, the majority of my current clients are health care professionals! I realize now that a large number of health care providers are hurting, but they don’t allow themselves to acknowledge or show it. They long to reconnect with what truly matters and what initially made them choose a career in medicine.
Here are a few insights for coaches interested in working in health care:
1. THE MAJORITY OF HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS HAVE NO IDEA WHAT A COACH IS!
Unlike in business, coaching is relatively new to the world of medicine. As health care professionals, we are trained in the medical model, and our reflex is that “psychological issues” are referred to therapists. I know for sure that most physicians are unaware of what coaching is, therefore, they do not recommend coaching to their patients and are not open to being coached themselves. Unless a coach can demonstrate the distinction between therapy and coaching, health care providers will remain skeptical. Making this distinction is critical.
Most coaches tell you that the best way to explain coaching to someone is to coach them. In my experience, doctors and health care professionals are a tough sell. I remember asking one of my amazing trainers how best to open the door to coaching with my colleagues? She suggested asking them right off the bat: “How satisfied are you with your life right now on a scale of 1-10?” Then, to follow it up with the question: “How satisfied do you want to be?” The majority of them look at me like I’m utterly insane and unanimously answer, “I’m miserable,” or “I’m not satisfied at all,” or “I cannot wait to retire!” And when they answer how satisfied they wish to be, they say, “Way more satisfied than I am now!” or “Anything would be better.” Framing coaching like this resonates with them and following this up with how coaching can help bridge that gap between where they are now and where they want to be draws them in further. More importantly the notion that coaching isn’t focused on the concept of “dis-ease” or psychopathology, but rather on the concept of creating ease, makes them far more curious and eager to find out more.
Additionally, the concept of coaching via telephone or Skype is entirely novel. I remember talking to my coach the first time; I was so desperate that I was ready to fly out to the west coast just to meet with her. When she told me that we were going to talk on the telephone, not only was I completely incredulous, I actually laughed out loud.
2. HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS ARE ORDINARY PEOPLE WHO ARE HURTING BUT OFTEN DON’T ALLOW THEMSELVES OR ANYONE ELSE TO SEE THEIR PAIN.
While I don’t think these characteristics are exclusive to the health care industry, the stressors health care providers are confronted with are unique in that they deal routinely with peoples’ health, pain and suffering. In addition, individuals in this field are heavily guarded. We are taught from the very beginning of our training that the only way to survive is to “toughen up and suck it up.” It takes a lot of patience, curiosity, intuition and values exploration to shed these deeply ingrained tendencies and to help us reconnect with who we are at heart.
3. HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS ARE NOT USED TO ASKING FOR HELP.
No question about it, we are unfamiliar with the concept of asking for assistance. Many of us know we are horribly stuck and unhappy, but we simply don’t allow ourselves to acknowledge it. Our saboteurs and gremlins scream inside our heads: “Asking for help is a sign of weakness” or “Are you kidding? You don’t ask for help, you provide help.”
4. THERE IS OFTEN A TREMENDOUS DISCONNECT BETWEEN THE VALUES THAT MADE SOMEONE CHOOSE A CAREER IN MEDICINE AND HOW THAT PERSON FEELS TODAY.
Most health care workers chose medicine because they care profoundly for people and wholeheartedly want to make a difference in the world. Unfortunately, whether it is grueling hours or the business of medicine, the values of caring, compassion, empathy, connection, healing and wanting to make a difference are dampened by the day-to-day practice of medicine. For this reason, powerful questions focused on dreams, values, peak experiences, ideal self and the legacy individuals wish to leave are hugely important in this population. Most of us are aching to rediscover what mattered to us in the first place.
5. BALANCE AND SELF-CARE ARE ELUSIVE CONCEPTS.
Although every one of us tells patients that it is important to live a balanced life, we forget that we must practice what we preach. While the introduction of electronic medical records is changing the way medicine is practiced and enhancing continuity of care for patients, it has radically changed the practice of medicine for the providers. Health care professionals more than ever are connected to their jobs, even when they are not at work. I watch my husband, who is a family doctor, get home at 10 p.m. at night and still have work to do on the computer: checking patients’ labs, reports and X-rays. This kind of 24/7 connection to the job and the nature of the job can make it difficult to find balance between personal and professional life.
In terms of self-care, we often fall short of heeding our own advice. Some of my colleagues are great at taking time for themselves, but honestly, most of us aren’t. We tell our patients to exercise and eat well but often we are the worst offenders. One of the most common things I hear my clients say is that they don’t have any time to do things for themselves, or that they view taking care of themselves as selfish when they have so many other things to do.
6. MOST HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS LONG FOR CONNECTION, AND THIS CONNECTION IS ONE OF THE REASONS THEY CHOSE THEIR CAREERS IN THE FIRST PLACE.
Unfortunately, the hectic, stressful lifestyle we lead can promote a deep sense of disconnection to peers, patients and, sadly, our families. Even the provider patient interaction is often one of disconnection today. Providers are entering data into computers while talking with patients. This makes what used to be a very personal one-on-one interaction far less personal, and, ultimately, unsettling to the patients and providers alike. The value of connection has gotten lost in the process of advancing health care. And the providers themselves are just as disenchanted by this arrangement as the patients. Re-establishing a sense of connection to others is critical in helping all of us move forward.
7. HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALS ARE A PROUD, HONORABLE, GENEROUS GROUP OF PEOPLE WHO LONG TO RECONNECT TO THEIR LIFE PURPOSE.
When I first said I didn’t want to work within the health care industry, it was because I was disillusioned and didn’t realize how wounded the profession was. Keeping these feelings inside left me alone and alienated. Now having had the honor of speaking candidly with all different types of health care workers, I realize that the system itself perpetuates the stigma that we are alone on this journey. The reality is that when we allow ourselves to share our common experiences it’s cathartic. Having insight into what the experience is like for health care providers is critical to starting the meaningful conversations necessary to serve them in navigating and envisioning a life that is fulfilling, meaningful and whole. Only by doing this, can they heal and be properly equipped to heal others.
This article was originally posted by Coach Federation on 03 Jun 2016