I love the practice of medicine- the challenge, the learning, the meaning, the connection, the camaraderie, and the love and respect for life and for well-being.
I love physicians. I love that I am one and that I have the unique honor of sharing some of the most sacred experiences with people. It really is a holy calling.
"Why, if being a doctor didn't work for you,
should I expect to be coached by you
so I can be a happy doctor?"
Which brings me to my current calling- life coaching with physicians. I recently had a potential coaching client ask me why I am no longer a doctor and "why, if being a doctor didn't work for you, should I expect to be coached by you so I can be a happy doctor?" It's a great question!
After having some time to reflect on the question, this is my answer. "No, practicing medicine, in its traditional sense, did not work for me. My approach to being a doctor is no longer traditional- I occasionally work a shift at an outpatient walk-in clinic, I am a life coach for doctors, I am a promoter of physician well-being, and I am still a 100%, full-fledged physician- it is in my bones, my heart, and my soul. I have practiced Family Medicine for 20 years and nothing will take that from me- even if I don't practice it as often, as hard, or as I was trained to do it."
When I started out in practice I truly believed I would practice medicine- delivering babies, outpatient, inpatient, procedures, nursing home, all of it- forever! It's all I knew, it's what I was trained to do and anything short of that was "irresponsible", "not fulfilling my duty as a physician", "not honoring the gift I was given", "failure", "giving up", "second rate", "letting people down", and "letting myself down".
Five years ago, though, I walked away from that which I had previously dubbed "success" and walked straight into the unknown. I'll admit I have been subject to plenty of self-inflicted judgement- "you couldn't hack it", "you screwed up", "what a waste" and, thankfully have managed to balance that judgmental voice with my more compassionate voice- "you did your very best-always", "you have helped and served so many people", "you, too, deserve health and happiness", and "you are worthy". It is that voice that I believe I desperately needed to hear.
I only wish that voice had been loud and proud while I was practicing full-time; balancing marriage, motherhood, and medicine; facing high stress, difficult situations, trauma and heartache. In fact, I wonder- no, I know that had my self-compassion been as robust then as it is now, I would still be there in my practice taking care of my amazing patients. And yet, I find myself here, at home while my colleagues are slogging it out at work. How do I justify that ? How do I convince a coaching client that I should be at home and they should be working their tail off at the clinic or hospital? Well, it's simple. I don't.
We ought not be comparing how
we practice medicine, but rather,
we need to be listening to our intuition,
following our hearts, and practicing
medicine with heart and joy in a fashion
that is true to our heart's desire.
Here's the thing, I do have that little voice in the back of my mind asking, "Is it time to go back to practicing medicine yet, Betsy?" I listen and respond, and so far, as of today, the answer has been, "no, not yet". So although I am not practicing traditional medicine, I am practicing listening to and trusting my intuition. This, is what I believe all physicians need to be doing. We ought not be comparing how we practice medicine, but rather, we need to be listening to our intuition, following our hearts, and practicing medicine with heart and joy in a fashion that is true to our heart's desire.
In spite of my relative separation from the practice of medicine, I find myself inextricably drawn to it, to other healers, and to the healthcare system that seems to chew up and spit out its doctors, PA's, and nurses. I'm still needed and my heart and soul stays connected through my current work. This season of my life is dedicated to championing the hearts of healers. I do this because I watched my heart break and all but implode in the traditional practice of medicine. As a good friend and physician colleague of mine suggested recently, "you would have died had you stayed in medicine, Betsy". And, I do believe he is absolutely right.
I am so grateful that I am here, that I am alive and well, that my husband has his wife and my kids have their mom. No career or calling is worth sacrificing that. I know this now, and I also know that there was a time that I thought that being a doctor- a good one- meant martyrdom, endless sacrifice and perhaps even the death of my heart and soul. I thought, "medicine is a noble calling and people need me. I can't let them down." I 100% believed that I owed it to the world to "just do it!" WTH?!? Why?! How did I get to that point? Well, now, after having worked with several physician coaching clients, I can see that I was not alone in my thinking. Doctors are trained to believe these ideas. They don't overtly teach this mindset in medical school and residency, but you better believe that it is rooted very deeply in the training. And then, the doctors take that message to work and they live by it- believing it and clinging to it like a lifeline. Ironically, for many, the only thing attached to the other end of this so-called "lifeline" is pain, suffering, exhaustion and burnout. Many find themselves at the end this lifeline with nothing and they choose death by suicide, numbing out with substances, and social isolation. It's an ugly truth and I would argue most physicians know it and have or are currently living it.
For me, it took walking away and looking back to recognize the ugliness of this so-called "truth" and to get a glimpse of the beautiful real truth. This beautiful truth that I speak of is rooted in the divine, as far as I can tell. It certainly is not rooted in sacrifice and martyrdom. It is compassionate and forgiving. It allows for imperfection and it invites creativity and joy. I get to claim that I am a doctor and that I can choose how I will go about following that calling. Right now in my life I am answering the call to champion fellow physicians who are struggling, fighting, and challenging the ugly truth of their training and seeking their beautiful and authentic truth.
What I know now that I didn't know then is that a doctor is a much more effective healer when he or she is well. Sacrificing one's well-being does, in fact, do a disservice to our patients. We simply must take care of ourselves, live from our personal truth, practice creatively if we must, practice self-compassion, and let go of sacrifice and martyrdom as a path to success.
For those who want to live more truly
to their heart's desire, it will require a bit
of faith, a whole lot of self-compassion,
and an openness to challenging the status quo.
I have faith that in my honoring my personal truth that it will place me precisely where I need to be to best serve others. Today I choose to champion the hearts of healers. As I do that , I know I will continue to hear my own inner voice asking me regularly "are you ready to go back to practicing medicine yet?" And, I vow to continue to answer with my whole heart. Today, my answer is " Not yet, there is something else I must do first. I am here for other healers. I long to see them thrive, live their truth, and learn to be who they were designed to be." It is simple, but not easy, but the beautiful thing is that as physicians we know how to do that which is challenging- we do it every single day.
For those who want to live more truly to their heart's desire, it will require a bit of faith, a whole lot of self-compassion, and an openness to challenging the status quo. I believe all physicians deserve to have joy, meaning and balance. This will take different forms for each of us as we embody this truth, and that is when we will begin to shine individually, collectively, and for all to see.