How Being a Doctor Helps Me Coach
The photo above is one of my favorites; it shows me wearing my witch hat, preparing to make rounds on my little patients on Halloween in 2011. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays; being a Pediatrician allowed me to play dress-up while working. And in so doing, bring joy to the children who were too ill to be at home walking from door to door in search of treats.
There were many joyous moments in my medical career. I believe they prepared me well to make the transition to coaching. What follows is my explanation of what being a doctor is all about and how I feel it helped me enjoy fully the current chapter of my life.
To become a physician requires many years of education and training. First college, then medical school, then residency (to learn a major specialty area; in my case Pediatrics), then fellowship (for those who want to pursue a sub-specialty (in my case, pediatric critical care). After all that education and training, you would think I would be content. But no. During my early years as a pediatric intensivist, I chose to get advanced training in medical ethics, and during my later years, I obtained an MBA (master’s in business administration). And now I am nearing the end of my coach training. Becoming a physician by graduating from medical school, and holding a license is not adequate to show the public you are highly qualified to practice in your specific area; that is why board certification exists. In my case, I became board certified in Pediatrics in 1984. Becoming board certified requires having attended the appropriate, accredited residency program, an attestation from the residency director of one’s competence and ethical practice, and the successful completion of a comprehensive written (and in those days a separate oral) exam. I was then also certified in pediatric critical care in 1987, during the first round of certifications for what was at that time a newly recognized sub-specialty.
Some time in the mid-1980’s certifications, which had previously been good for a lifetime, became what is now known as time-limited. It was believed by the various boards that certify physicians, that medical knowledge and the ability to provide the best medical care was changing rapidly (it still is; perhaps even more so) and that if one didn’t do a certain amount of work to keep up with the knowledge, the public could suffer, not knowing if their doctor was still certified. So now most of the certifications are provided for a maximum of 10 years; after which a physician enters into a program called “maintenance of certification” or “continuous certification.” The process for this varies in the different specialties and I won’t try to describe the nuances of all the systems here. For my purpose in telling you all this, it is adequate to understand that there IS a process; that it consists of BOTH ongoing study AND ongoing and repeated assessments of knowledge.
So far, I haven’t given you a clue as to why this should be helpful to me as a coach. Well, I believe in certification. I believe that the public has a right to know how well trained any professional is who interacts with them in a helping profession. So even though coaching is a fully unregulated area, and there is no law nor body that requires certification, or accrediting of educational programs for coaches, I believe strongly that such education and training, and assessment of that training is essential.
These beliefs led me to insist upon being trained by a well-known and reputable coaching program. These beliefs made me think that being a good coach is not good enough. These beliefs will cause me to pursue additional education and training to be the best coach I can possibly be and will help me to not stop striving to help my clients in the best way possible.
Although I have stopped seeing patients in my medical practice, I continue to attend programs designed to provide me with continuing medical education. This keeps my brain always thinking about my chosen field of pediatric critical care. In addition, I seek out programs that allow me to know and understand the challenges of the field of pediatrics, and the issues surrounding the business of medicine. I learn as much as I can about the challenges of burn out; a phenomenon that affects a great many of my former physician colleagues.
But as a physician who believes strongly in being and staying informed is not the only way my prior career impacts my current career. Working with clients who are vulnerable is a privilege, much like being a physician and working with patients and families at a critical time in their lives was a privilege. It is a sacred trust that has been offered to me to accept and to honor. I believe I am a better coach because I believe that I was the kind of physician I would want for someone in my own family during a time of crisis and under stress. I believe that my background prepared me to help others understand the stressors in their lives and find ways to thrive no matter what the situation. I am so grateful that I have what I perceive to be a gift. A gift of being able to help people feel safe in my presence. A gift of usually remaining calm in the face of crisis. A gift of integrity, so that no one ever has to question my motivations or my intent. And I am grateful that I can bring all that to my coaching.
Are all physicians excellent coaches? I have no idea.
Are physicians the only folks that I can or want to coach? No.
And I hope I didn’t make you think that was where I was headed.
No. I honestly feel that having been a physician, I am well suited to be able to know, understand and coach folks from all walks of life, and in many different situations. I am finding that coaching is providing me the opportunity to work with many people, at all different phases in their lives. It is bringing me joy—similar to the joy I would feel when I had been able to make a difference in a child’s life or in a family’s response to their child’s serious illness. I am feeling the same joy that came from helping students, faculty, residents and fellows connect with their heart and succeed in reaching their biggest dreams.
I can’t imagine a better career, can you?
I would love to hear what helps you feel fulfilled. Is it what you do in your personal life, your professional life, or a combination of both?
What interferes with you feeling great satisfaction? Is it a too-full schedule, attending seemingly endless meetings, or performing tasks without a clear outcome? What can you do to change the environment, or your response to it so that you can experience the joy of life?
Do you have a “biggest dream” in your heart? How will you get there? Let me know what you are hoping to do, and how you are thinking about your options to achieve that dream.