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Physician, heal thyself? Listening carefully...

Physician, heal thyself? Listening carefully...

Posted by Jess on 03/03/2014

In my experience working as a coach with GPs and Consultants, I often find it’s the first time anyone has listened to them without judgment, vested interested or opinion. Medical professionals are fully focused on listening to others, but who listens to them as people (rather than as ‘doctors’)? 

Doctors usually have extremely high standards, and they thrive on making a difference and getting positive results. This is commendable of course, but it can also be a source of stress. A common theme among many of the doctors I have worked with is a sense of being ‘not appreciated’ or ‘lacking significance’. So they strive to do more. The long hours, time pressures, and the stress of making key decisions often lead to them to neglect their own personal lives, especially their health, fitness and nutrition – even though they are focusing on other people’s needs in these areas.

As a result, their lives might become imbalanced. It becomes a case of 'Do as I say, not as I do'. Doctors know what they should be doing, however knowing is not doing. The reality is that many medical professionals are not looking after themselves, perhaps because they feel they’re too busy looking after everyone else!

As with us all, doctors need to consciously schedule good habits, and then stick to them so that they become part of their routine: good hydration, balanced nutrition, exercise, relaxation and fun. 


Physician, heal thyself

Doctors hold an elevated position in society, respected and trusted as authority figures, but this can also create pressure. As with all high status individuals, doctors often feel that they are under closer scrutiny and judgement than most.

Also, doctors are highly trained to help and support other people, so when problems arise in their lives they feel they should be able to help themselves as well, or be stronger than others. They probably know what they need to do, and how they would advise a patient in the same situation, but they’re not always great at following the same advice themselves.

This in turn can lead to frustration and even a sense of failure (‘If I can’t help myself, then I can’t be a very good doctor’) which is totally misplaced.

It can also lead to a sense of fear: that in admitting they are human and vulnerable, and need help, they will lose their authority, status, reputation or people’s respect. This is a very real concern, as many doctors will try to ignore the problem or hope it will resolve itself, leading to precious delays in seeking help and allowing the issue to escalate until it is a full-blown health or mental health issue. And with mental health issues, there is a still a perceived stigma around seeking counselling and therapy yet this stigma does not exist with coaching, which is progressive, positive and perceived to be for successful achievers. 

Like all illness, prevention is preferable to cure. Regular coaching (from those not involved within their practice) for doctors – to talk through their current challenges, find solutions and keep their lives as realistically balanced as possible – can help to prevent many stress-related health issues, as it is in other stressful professions. Dynamic, results-driven executives in the business world now demand coaching as part of their remuneration packages, as recognition of their status [ref Financial Times article ‘ We want coaching’ say high fliers, 10th Oct 2013]. And is there a single successful professional sportsperson who doesn’t have at least one coach?

Doctors work incredibly hard to save lives, improve our lifestyles, and keep us healthy and pain-free. Like all of us, they also need someone to listen to them from time to time. It is truly a privilege to help. 

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