In our new mini-series, Dr Seema Pattni looks at how coaching can help GPs explore their options, find inspiration and evolve their careers.
There has been significant expansion and mainstreaming of the coaching industry. There are now specialist coaches for everything from sleep and weight loss to relationships and wardrobes. Being post-pandemic and post-partum, with a colossal collection of leggings, I could certainly benefit from a wardrobe coach. But what I have found most relevant recently is the growth and the acceptance of career coaching for GPs.
When everyone is paddling ferociously to survive the stormy GP waters and our SOS calls are getting louder, it may seem like making time to invest in yourself and realise your true potential is the last thing you can take on board right now. But coaching can offer the life buoy many of us need.
What is coaching and why can it be useful?
Coaching is the facilitated process of assessing your situation, exploring your options, forming goals, and developing a strategy to achieve those goals. It can be taken up in a one-to-one or group setting, remotely or in-person. Coaches can share your professional background, or they can have a different professional context. Not all coaches are accredited, nor do they need to be. A good coach is one who listens, understands, and empowers you to problem solve and progress to where you want to be.
I have turned to coaching when I have felt negative about my career, but also when I have felt very positive about it. I first signed up for coaching when I was feeling disillusioned and lost in medicine. I was deeply unhappy in my day-to-day CMT role. I felt that the pressures on hospitals resulted in rushed, impersonal and disjointed patient care. I struggled to see where I, or my teams, were making real positive change to patient outcomes. Coaching helped me to identify what mattered to me as a doctor and what type of clinical work I was most likely to find rewarding.
For a few years, I enjoyed the continuity of general practice and the follow-up that I could have with my patients. Patient empowerment, preventative care and seeing patients visibly better was fulfilling. Nevertheless, the stress of clinics started to take its toll and I seemed to always have the feeling that my work was incomplete. I was constantly multi-tasking and trying to catch up with appointments, prescriptions, lab results, meetings, meetings about meetings and CPD. During the working day, I barely had a moment to catch my thoughts or even have a toilet break.
Over time, I recognised that I was actively reducing my clinical sessions, replacing them with teaching roles, leadership roles and service development. Through these non-clinical roles, I developed an appreciation of the value that doctors could bring to roles beyond traditional clinical work. And I decided to take up more coaching, not because I felt unhappy but because I felt motivated and wanted to explore my options further.
‘Coaching helped me feel less muddled’
Taking time to identify and articulate my feelings about work, without judgement or expectation, was liberating. I think coaching has enabled me to develop better self-awareness. I was able to pinpoint what type of work energised me and the reasons behind that. Conversely, I was able to separate out what I found most draining and why. Coaching helped me to feel less muddled. I became more aware of and confident in my abilities, and how to apply them.
All my coaches have had something positive to offer. Those with clinical backgrounds had insights into being a doctor and understood how being a doctor can be intricately entwined in our identities. Meanwhile, the non-clinicians offered fresh perspectives and an understanding of other careers. The best coaches challenged my thought patterns and helped me to focus. I have developed the skills to make more sustainable decisions and plans, but also to better deal with change and disappointment.
Could I have reached the same points without coaching? Probably. But most likely, it would have taken me a lot longer to do so. It is not always easy to navigate our professional paths, especially when other life stressors take over and relegate work satisfaction to a subsidiary notion. At times of peak stress, sticking with the status quo can offer the security and stability we need.
However, coaching is becoming increasingly popular among GPs, with more of us committing time and energy to reflect on our career direction. Coaching has become better acknowledged as a form of self-investment and professional development, with many GPs demonstrating that our training and careers are only as linear or restrictive as we want them to be.
If only I could say the same about my wardrobe.
Dr Seema Pattni is a London-based GP and careers coach for female doctors. Click here to find out more.