In the latest in our mini-series, Dr Seema Pattni discusses core values, why they matter and how they can help GPs thrive in their careers.
Prior to my own coaching journey, I was struggling to stay true to myself. I was miserable at work. I desperately wanted to enjoy full-time clinical practice, but I did not. I loved certain aspects of general practice, yet there was a huge knot inside me, making me feel unhappy.
I could list the obvious pressures of the profession as reasons for my discontent, but I was not able to state what I wanted to do instead. My mind would flit about to unrealistic notions, and I would tie myself in more knots. I was completely ignorant of the concept of core values and why they mattered.
Now, as a coach myself, I have been wondering how many other GPs truly know their core values and whether they are aware of their importance, especially in the context of work. Drawing on our core values for career satisfaction may seem an obvious thing to do, but how many of us can readily list them? As GPs, we usually have so much going on that we have little time to reflect on them and how they relate to our working lives.
What are core values?
Our core values build our principles and belief system. Along with our culture, background and lived experience, they influence our perspectives and behaviour. Core values are the levers for our decision making; they inform what is important to us as individuals.
A deep dive into the development of our core values is beyond the scope of this piece. However, it is helpful to know that some are innate to us, some are instilled by family and culture, and some arise through personal experience.
Why do core values matter to GPs?
We tend to have more clarity and fulfilment when we live our day-to-day lives in alignment with our core values. Having a career that cultivates them is highly rewarding and satisfying. When our core values are kerbed at work, we can become stressed, fatigued and sad.
Core values observed in medical students and doctors include integrity, empathy, responsibility, service, compassion and work ethic. Medicine is a vocation that seems well aligned with these values, but this list of core values in medical students and doctors is not extensive. Many also have autonomy, financial stability, innovation and creativity as core values. Unfortunately, these can be quashed in the medic world, leading to unhappiness and potential burnout in the vocation.
The causes of GP burnout are multi-factorial, but I have learned that perpetual suppression of our core values is a key feature. For example, if autonomy and innovation rank highly for you, then working as a salaried GP in a particularly hierarchical GP surgery can quickly lead to disillusionment. Similarly, if empathy and compassion are important to you, then not having enough time to express these towards your patients can cause frustration and job dissatisfaction.
Many GPs accessing coaching explain that clinical practice is not what they hoped it would be, that they are not able to help patients in the way that they want to. They are often frazzled and bored with clinical practice, looking at how to diversify their roles to gain more balance. Some GPs can cite their core values, but others need coaching exercises and a period of reflection to articulate them and reflect on how they align with their current work set up.
Getting to know your core values
Amid the GP whirlwind and busyness of life, it is easy to lose sight and hold of our core values. And if you are not able to list yours, that is okay. As a starting point, take some time to think about when you have been most happy and at peace. What were you doing, who were you with and why did you feel happy? It is worthwhile to reflect on when you have been least happy, too.
It is worth noting that all of us also have innate strengths, some of which are realised and others unrealised. Layered on top of these are learned behaviours. These are skills or processes that we perform well at but might not enjoy if they are not aligned with our core values. Through coaching, GPs often discover that they are working in roles that lean heavily into their learnt behaviours, rather than their innate strengths and values.
Staying true to yourself
Move forward by reflecting on how much your current job matches up with your core values. Having this self-awareness mapped out enables you to specifically identify what about being a GP truly inspires you, what drains you, and why.
Think about how much you want to align future work with your core values, considering your personal and financial commitments. Working with a coach can facilitate more in-depth review with development of realistic and sustainable strategies.
Knowing our core values forms the basis for better career clarity. It helps with making more informed decisions, in tune with what we thrive on. Staying true to yourself, as cliched as it sounds, is pivotal in building a GP career that works for you. You may not get perfection, but you could get closer to it.
Dr Seema Pattni is a London-based GP and careers coach for female doctors. Click here to find out more.