I love science. In fact, it was my first love. Not yet knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up, I entered college declaring a pretty generic science major- Biology. I loved everything about my major...from botany to anatomy & physiology. I loved the precision, the predictability, the knowing of how "life" works, what screws up the physiologic response and even how to manipulate science to return things to the natural order. It has always been fascinating to me and still is. This attraction to science is what led me to medical school and to 15 years of practicing family medicine.
And yet, as much as I love science, my life recently took a little detour into new territory....life coaching. For those of you who are not familiar with life coaching, suffice it to say that after a two year journey to become a professional life coach I have been sufficiently indoctrinated into what I once would have called the "woo-woo". The coaching world initially seemed to me like the polar opposite of my life as a physician...absent of the precision and predictability of science.
In fact, I suddenly found myself inviting my new coaching clients to "embrace the unknown", to "challenge what you think you know", and to "accept imperfection". Yikes! I'll be honest, at times it felt like blatant disregard for the Hippocratic Oath...first do no harm. Had I gone to the dark side? Had I sacrificed all I had worked so hard for and the integrity of the oath I had sworn? Short answer- NO. Longer answer, NO, and I can assure you I have not gone to the "dark side". If anything, this foray into the "woo-woo" has shed some real light on the art of practicing medicine.
A little of my back story...I grew up in a Christian home, however, my experience of "the divine" was pretty much limited to the church building. The church continued to provide a safe haven for me even into adulthood. I called myself a Christian and yet I kept it very separate from my work life. Don't get me wrong, I prayed as a doctor. In fact, I prayed a lot...for steady hands, sound mind, and even for sleep. This prayer was very private, though.
So, where am I going with all of this? Well, basically, I want to share with you how the "woo-woo" of coaching (which, by the way, I no longer consider "woo-woo") brought me to this revelation...
...the art of medicine is to serve
patients from the sweet spot
between science and the divine.
It didn't take long as a medical student to figure out that there truly is an "art" to medicine. I saw it frequently- different doctors applying differing techniques and strategies to similar problems and I saw that the patients got well, in spite of varying treatment regimens. This was great because as much as I appreciate science and precision, I also love being creative, independent, and free to use my knowledge and experience to create personalized solutions for my patients.
Practicing creatively and achieving positive outcomes for patients is certainly the magical side of medicine and I wish I could say that it always proved to be so romantic. However, I need to share with you another side- the side that took on an uglier persona. What I haven't yet shared with you is that sometimes, in spite of doctors' best efforts, skills, and expertise, patients don't get well. For me, as a doctor who has always held that science should be precise and predictable, this is a hard pill to swallow. In fact, the only answer I could come up with was that if a patient had an unfavorable and/or unexpected outcome, I must have screwed up or misunderstood the science. Basically, I decided that I had failed to uphold my end of the agreement to first do no harm. What I was left with was the belief that when the outcome was as good, I was a success. Otherwise, I had failed.
I can see now, looking back, how damaging this black or white thinking was, and I have had to work very hard to shift it. Basically, I had to find a more accurate explanation as to the why behind those times when things go wrong. This is where I credit the "woo-woo" for showing me the light. If you recall, it was as a life coach that I began to personally embrace the idea that there is meaning, value and purpose in the unknown and even in that which is imperfect. As you might suspect, my coach self and my doctor self were a bit at odds over this idea for awhile. But, with time, in working through my stuff, and in supporting my coaching clients as they worked through their stuff, I continued to get glimpses of this special place in all of us that is full of calm, self-compassion and confidence, in spite of the circumstances. I began to refer to it as the sweet spot.
It is in this sweet spot where everything I know to be true and scientifically proven meets up in a strangely perfect way with that which is unknown and imperfect. It is here that I believe the divine "hangs out". When I am operating from this special place I am keenly aware that things don't necessarily have to always make sense, and I can have confidence that regardless of the outcome, good or bad, the divine is at work. This is where I want to practice medicine from this day forward- at the crossroads of science and the divine.