I am working with a number of doctors at the moment who are considering alternative careers or managing careers that don’t follow a traditional path.
Although the education and training pathway for medicine is narrow and long, people don’t necessarily want their whole career to be prescribed or predictable. And what I often find is that people who are considering doing things differently are very anxious about how this may be viewed or valued. The investment both financially and personally in becoming a doctor is significant, so to potentially challenge this position is hard. And of course there is a whole section of the workforce who are now considering leaving medicine altogether due to the unrelenting pressures and personal challenges they are being made to face.
In this blog I’ll address alternative careers (actually stepping away from medicine) and different career paths (doing things differently, but within medicine).
So what could you do? There are lists on the internet that give options and ideas for doctors; what their medical degree and experience might lead to. I’m not sure these are that helpful though. If you are lucky enough to spot the ideal career for you in a list, then great. But if you are uninspired by the choices, you can still feel rudderless and frustrated.
As well as the practical and financial considerations, I think that one of the most important reflections you must consider is what kind of life do you want to lead. Family, health and wellbeing, time to think and create, opportunities for volunteering – and many others. In addition, what kinds of skills do you enjoy using. Not necessarily healthcare delivery, but perhaps people development or writing? What do you really get engrossed in and energised by?
See the link below for the national conference in April on ‘Alternative Career Paths for Doctors’.
Different Career Paths
Just because someone hasn’t done it before, doesn’t mean it is not possible. Everyone’s medical career is different and comparing yourself to others can be very unhelpful. What is also frustrating is that it can appear unclear how people have developed their careers; its often invisible how people have created their working arrangements and interests. But medicine affords people the opportunity to be a part of a clear and defined role, but also the opportunity to specialise and diversify in many different directions. It can take time and exploration to work this out, so be patient. If there is one trait that I see most often with doctors, it is the desire to learn and keep developing so taking risks, keeping your options open and trying out new things is key to capitalising on opportunities.
The most important part of this process is to approach it from the right direction. That is, don’t consider stepping away from medicine, focus on what you want to step towards, and perhaps medicine might play a role in that. As some educationalists are now approaching young people differently with ‘don’t ask a student what they want to be when they grow up – ask them what problem they want to solve’, then perhaps we should apply the same to ourselves.
Useful Links and resources
There are more, but here is a selection for you to access:
I ran a session for doctors in the West Midlands last week who volunteer their time to mentor colleagues. The session focussed on why mentors (and coaches) need supervision.
‘Supervision’ – it’s an unhelpful word though. Supervision implies a policing or checking that is thrust upon us and is unwelcome. However, if done well it can be incredibly useful and important.
The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Professional Development) highlight three areas that supervision for mentors/coaches should cover:
qualitative function (checking and reviewing the quality of the service you offer – needs to be done no matter how experienced you are)
developmental function (reviewing your skills, understanding your capabilities through reflection and exploration)
resourcing function (provides emotional support enabling the mentor to deal with the intensity of working with clients)
To read the CIPD paper detailing this click HERE. These three areas form a useful structure for reviewing your practice and CPD as a mentor or coach. Looking after the service you deliver (whether paid or volunteered) needs to take a high priority as you are often working in a isolated way.
And it can be a lonely experience. Obviously the information you hear and help people with is confidential, so you are often absorbing lots of personal experiences that are sometimes uncomfortable for the person you are supporting. Having the resource to deal with this is important. That’s why similar professions like psychologists have regular supervisors.
If you don’t have a supervisor what should you do?
If you are part of a organisation scheme see if you can buddy-up with a fellow mentor to start the process of review and development. Or, see if there is a lead mentor in the scheme who can offer this option. They should be qualified and experienced.
If you are a lone mentor, see if you can reciprocate with a fellow mentor/coach you know who you can share the supervision with. Or, Consider hiring a mentor or coach to support you.
The EMCC (European Mentoring & Coaching Council) and the CIPD recommends that mentors and coaches should receive regular supervision, usually calculated on how many hours of mentoring you are doing per month. For example, at least every two months or 1:35 ratio of supervision to coaching.
The bottom line is, you need to look after yourself and strive for continuous improvement because as we know, being a coach or mentor is exciting because it is a continual learning process.
Executive coaches are typically seen as being professionals, and compared with other professions, such as therapy and counselling, where supervision has long been an essential part of continuous professional development, quality management and the maintenance of boundaries, especially in terms of client protection. Mentors, by contrast, have typically been seen as amateurs – less well-trained, operating in an unpaid capacity. That assumption is increasingly questionable.. David Clutterbuck.
Spotting when you might be getting stale and how to freshen up.
Renewal is an important part of personal development and it seems to be a theme for many of the people I work with. There is the very real potential to get slightly bored with doing the same things, or run out of ideas at any stage of your medical career, despite how busy you are. Obviously there are huge challenges at a day to day level for doctors currently, but it is important to recognise when you need a refresh in order to avoid starting to burn out.
Some of the signs that people describe having are; low energy, lack of interest and a feeling that they are not fulfilled. Left un-checked this can descend into low esteem, poor morale and unhappy working relationships.
This is difficult because Doctors are expected to manage their own careers and develop the non-clinical interests and ideas away from their clinical base; whether it be education, management, research or organisational development. But there is no clear pathway or training and development to access. On the flip side, as doctors you do have relative autonomy to explore options, as long as you priortise yourself.
In order to access the right opportunities or spot the potential in new areas, you need to know what matters to you and what is of interest.
Take time out to establish:
Your personal values
How you like to learn
What you have learnt about yourself and your work
What skills you have gained
What you would like to get better at or improve
What you would like to be a part of
Clarifying for yourself the above will help you identify what you are and are not interested in, and how you would like to make a change.
So, here are some of the things that people I know have undertaken in order to refresh:
Start a new activity (teaching/research)
Get involved in policy or strategy development
Take on role in professional society or college
Investigate roles in medical education (post and undergraduate)
Get involved in mentoring or appraisal
Join a ethics committee or NICE
Become the lead for a local service
Get involved with your Local Medical Committee or CCG
Join your Clinical Senate
Take on a quality improvement task/role or pathway redesign
Write articles / newsletters or a blog
Use social media to connect with people who have similar interests as you
Every single cell in the human body replaces itself over a period of seven years. That means there’s not even the smallest part of you now that was part of you seven years ago.” Steven Hall
If you would like to talk over your development call me on 0754 0593476 or email me at
I’ve used the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) with doctors for many years and have always found it to be an incredibly useful way for people to gain deeper insight into their preferences and behaviours.
For the younger doctors it’s a great way to access data into how they have specialised their core personality attributes and for older doctors it’s a powerful tool to support continual professional development, especially around leadership.
So as part of my CPD for 2015 I decided to train in MBTI ‘step II’. If you’ve ever done MBTI you will know that the process involves you learning about Carl Jung’s four preferences areas (called dichotomies) that then group people into one of two alternatives for each dichotomy. See below.
Working through all four dichotomies results in a combination of four letters that can describe what your basic personality tools are and how you prefer to use them. You will end up with a four letter ‘Type’, e.g. ENTP or ISFJ. It triggers great conversations about how people behave (especially at work) and gives useful ideas about how you can get the best out of yourself.
But, this ‘off the peg’ result might not always fit perfectly. This is where MBTI step II helps. Taking your result from step I, step II drills down deeper into each dichotomy preference by describing five key components (facets) that make each area. This means the results of a MBTI step II report are much more tailored to fit you.
As part of my step II training last week I had to undertake the test myself. It was fascinating to be on the other side of the experience for once and to learn new things about myself.
For example, I’ve a clear preference for Extroversion but never quite understood why I don’t particularly relish large social gatherings. It turns out that my preference in the facet that deals with this (Gregarious – Intimate) is not weighted towards Gregarious. It helps me understand more deeply how and why I make decisions about large gatherings of people and how I handle myself during them. Below illustrates the Facets that make up Extroversion and Introversion. In total MBTI Step II measures twenty facets (five for each dichotomy).
I can see this being incredibly useful for the doctors I work with. They always appreciate learning about themselves and how this can positively impact their work, but to have a more advanced level of self awareness will be of great value.
How can coaching open your eyes to new ways of seeing?
I have been asked to deliver a keynote speech at the annual dinner hosted by Abbotts Medical Optics as part of the European Society of Retina Specialists conference. This global conference is the biggest event for eye surgeons.
As an art student in the 1980s I read John Berger’s classic ‘Ways of Seeing’ as part of my art education. Its’ principle aim was to start a process of questioning about how we look, interpret and judge images. It really opened my eyes to seeing and interpreting pictures with new insight and perception.
And interestingly, that is what happens in the coaching conversation. So that is what I’m going to talk about at the conference dinner next month.
I think the following factors are critical in supporting people to see things differently.
Time – Exploration – Ease – Honesty
Time – Committing time to think through what and how you are doing things is time well spent. It’s a valuable commodity and something few medics are rich in, but it’s an investment that will pay back over time.
Exploration – Describing what has happened, how you performed and what you feel is how most coaching conversations start. Often, talking it over can be enough to see things differently, but crucially, this is only really effective when the listener is non-judgemental and impartial.
Ease – The pace of modern life is frantic and so taking time out to pause and reflect is important. The ‘ease’ of the coaching environment plays a big part in creating an atmosphere where people can relax and think things through properly.
Honesty – In a coaching conversation honesty is vital. If you continue to do and see things the way you have always done, you will get the same results. If you are honest with yourself and are prepared to ask yourself challenging questions, then you can make the change you want to see.
After all, the true seeing is within.”
George Eliot, Middlemarch.
If you would like to talk over a change you would like to make, call me on 0754 0593476 or email me at email@example.com
When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier. Roy E. Disney
I’ve been writing these blogs for two years now. Looking back over the subjects I’ve covered, it strikes me that I’ve never written about personal values. Time to put this right. It is important because if you can identify what really matters to you, and how you want to lead your life, then it makes the choices and uncertainty that you will inevitably face, easier. Most of us assume we know roughly what our values are, but rarely do we actually think it through and identify why those values are vital for us.
When I do this with Doctors I use multiple values that are written onto cards and ask the them to gradually edit down to around five cards. The process of doing this means that the person is reflecting and internally discussing what those words mean for them and why they are important. Of course we will all have different interpretations of these words. One person’s ‘Happiness’ could be another person’s ‘Health’. But what matters is that that person knows what it means for them.
It can sometimes be quite an emotional experience for people because if identified correctly, these words hold great personal power. Like a compass, they help guide and ground you at times of uncertainty, but they can also help you overcome anxieties or fears that are unhelpful. For example, I’m scared of flying, but one of my core values is ‘Courage’. It is this value that gets me on the plane because it is more important to me to live by this, than to succumb to my fear.
Values influence every aspect of our lives: our moral judgments, our responses to others, our commitments to personal and organizational goals. Values set the parameters for the hundreds of decisions we make every day. Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner
Sometimes this process highlights for people that they are not living by some of their core values, or that some values contradict each other. This insight into our personal drivers can help us identify why we are unhappy or uncomfortable with decisions or situations. It’s worth thinking about.
Tips for identifying your values:
1. Find as many value words as you can and write them down individually on post it notes or scraps of paper.
2. Gradually edit them down so you are left with 5-6.
3. Talk them through with a friend who can test and challenge what those words mean to you.
4. Test them out when faced with a decision and see how the values play a role in your processing.
If you would like to talk over your values call me on 0754 0593476 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Know thyself’ is as relevant now, as it was in ancient Greece.
I recently ran a session for the Leicester Faculty of the RCGP for their First5 group. It was an evening session on a very cold and windy March night, but we had a full house. I used the MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) to give attendees insight into their personal preferences about how they naturally interact with the world, plan and organise their lives, make decisions and cope with change. Whilst we had a lot of fun, it was really interesting to see how individuals came to terms with some pretty intrinsic truths about themselves and how these might affect their transition from training programme to independent practice.
When I attended the session I did not really know what to expect- but afterward I feel like I have got to know myself so much better…In the busy world that is general practice and with the increasing pressure it was a breath of fresh air to be able to take a step back and assess my personality not only professionally but also personally. I feel that I have the tools to deal with future tensions better and also to be able to recognise when that is also not the case.” GP Attendee.
Knowing thyself and managing yourself are so important in the challenging and pressurised environments Doctors function in. Taking time to read your emotions and review the affect you have on others is vital for your development, as well as fundamental to your leadership and management effectiveness.
But it’s not easy. Doing things that come naturally or are habit can be straightforward to you. But doing things that you find difficult or are outside of your comfort zone are a different matter. And when you have to do something like this then your internal battle is tough. Knowing yourself and finding ways to out manoeuvre the urge to avoid things that you have to do, is a powerful self management tool.
Building Self Awareness
You can access a whole host of tools that can help you to build self awareness such as MBTI, Emotional Intelligence, Hogan etc and these are very useful. However I think it’s your inner voice and the relationship you have with yourself that is the greatest indicator of affective self awareness. I’m re-reading Dr Steve Peter’s (Psychiatrist) The Chimp Paradox at the moment. It’s really helping me train for the 10k I’m doing in July as my urge to not run is strong! But the book is supporting me to develop a more honest and realistic relationship with myself about running. See more about The Chimp Paradox HERE. We can be thankful that for most of us our brain is developable at any stage of our lives, so we can keep learning about ourselves.
If you would like to talk over Coaching to build self awareness call me on 0754 0593476 or email me at email@example.com
NB, Dr Steve Peters is now working with the England football squad, so that should test the model…
Doctors need and want coaching and mentoring now more than ever.
I’ve noticed a surge in interest recently. Not just for my own practice, but also through running group training sessions and working with other organisations.
For example, last week I was at the Royal College of Radiologist looking through the submissions for their pilot project to run a national mentoring scheme by and for members. We’ve designed the project to be relatively small at first so have a limited number of places. But we were genuinely surprised and delighted by the volume (and quality) of people who wanted to help and be a part of the pilot by donating their time freely. This significant oversubscription and generosity of spirit tells me that Doctors recognize the need and unique benefits of coaching and mentoring now more than ever.
And the RCR is not alone in 2014. I know that the Royal College of Physicians are also planning on setting up a mentoring scheme this year and the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management (FMLM) are in the process of establishing a network of experienced coaches and mentors for their members, which I’m proud to be a part of.
So why the surge now?
Mentoring for Doctors has been long touted as a crucial part of on-going professional development and the key to developing clinical leadership skills. But we also know that in the past many Doctors have assumed that coaching & mentoring are for those in ‘difficulty’ and have tended to suppose it’s not for them. We also know that the pervading culture of medicine requires Doctors to be resilient and ‘just get on with it’.
I think the current interest and need is because the pressure on Doctors is now so great, and the stakes are so high, that individuals are eager for help, now more than ever.
Where can you get the support you need?
Doctors in Training – Your Deanery might have a mentoring scheme.
Hospital Doctors – Your employing Trust might have it’s own internal mentoring service.
General Practitioners – Your Local Medical Committee or CCG might have access to networks.