In a recent Physicians Anonymous peer support meeting, a group of doctors were discussing the reasons why they were reluctant to reach out for help. The usual reasons were fear of career or licensing issues, being seen as “less” or “weak”, and internal stigma. This accords with research suggesting low rates of help-seeking behavior among physicians. We have previously written about this disturbing scenario and potential solutions here. Yet an encouraging recent study showed that some 70% of physicians would engage with a professional coach. We argue that this openness to coaching provides a much-needed support system and a potential solution to the current pandemic of physician burnout and suicide.
There are numerous reasons given for doctors not getting help when (or ideally before) we need it.
What are your reasons? Mine were mostly fear and denial, as I’ve written about here.
If I had my time over again I would have swallowed my fear and gotten help before the life- and career-crash that derailed a moderately successful medical life. But that is in the past and I cannot change it. However I wish for you all to have a little more wisdom and a lot more guts that I had, and if you think you are struggling, please do not suffer alone. Connect with someone, look at your options, do not be afraid of getting the right help at the right time.
I was recently delighted to hear about an article where physicians were asked about who they would approach for support if needed. Only a quarter would go for mental health treatment- – for the reasons listed above. Something like 70% would have gone for coaching.
This seems like a real opportunity to me.
Not only are we desperately short of psychiatrists and therapists, but the fear of “permanent record” discrimination is real and ongoing. Coaches do not keep medical records, use insurance or have disclosure obligations.
As one participant stated, “Coaching literally saved my life”.
Crucially, with more than half of us not seeking help, a 70% rate of help seeking if coaches were available is compelling. Furthermore, if we consider burnout as a job problem rather than a mental health problem, coaching is ideal.
The advantages for a physician using a coach are multiplex, based on a professional skill set and position. Unlike a therapist of psychiatrist, they do not have to diagnose you, “fix” you, or prescribe. Your goals – and your self-limiting beliefs and actions getting in your own way – are their sole focus.
As they are person-focused, they ask what do you (as opposed to your hospital, residency director, professor, spouse, mother) want with your life?
Plus, the evidence base for coaching programs in physician burnout and compassion fatigue is growing (summarized here).
Professional coaches typically also possess a range of skills that enable them to effectively support their clients in achieving their goals. These skills may include:
By utilizing these skills, professional coaches are able to effectively support their clients in achieving their goals and making positive changes in their lives.
That is, indeed, the question!
There are pros and cons to each. An MD-coach understands medicine deeply from the inside. There are complexities, nuances, and details that only a doctor will understand. They have walked a mile down the hospital corridors in your scrubs. They know the hopes and fears, the hours and tears needed to get to where you are. They are you, only wiser.
On the other hand, as a product of the medical system, they may lack some perspectives that non-MD coaches have available.
A classic example: it is so normal for doctors to work long hours, weekends, and holidays that we hardly question it. Engaging an entrepreneur coach allowed me to see that what I accepted as “normal working life” was not normal (or healthy). Outside of healthcare and first responders, which professions work the unsocial and unpaid hours that we do in modern medicine? A non-MD coach helped me see possibilities outside the medical system. They had unique problem-solving skills which were different to the ones commonly used in medicine.
For a list of our Physicians Anonymous approved coaches and mentors, please look here.
Each one has been personally vetted and approved by us.
Your life will change for the better.
If you need mental health treatment, get it. Simple. A coach is not a mental health professional (unless they are dual trained, of course). Therapy and psych meds have their place and are life saving.
But if it’s a choice between getting ANY help and ZERO help, I would choose a Coach every time.
So, while we are not advocating coaching as the panacea for everything, we now believe that professional coaching has a real place in the prevention and management of physician burnout.
Wishing you all of the best for 2023 and beyond!