An interview with physician coach Karen Leitner MD.
How did you get into coaching?
There was a point before I started to transition away from clinical medicine where I was burned out and lost, trying to juggle a busy practice and a growing family. I genuinely thought the problem was not having enough time. I felt pulled in a million directions and therefore inadequate at doctoring and mom-ing (despite outside evidence to the contrary). I would look around at my colleagues who seemed like they were all managing OK and I wondered what was wrong with me that it felt so overwhelming and out of control. I felt like I was letting everyone down and there was a lot of shame.
It was only after I completely changed everything (new job so I could work from home, set my own schedule, be around my kids, make more money) and still felt unfulfilled that I realized the problem was not the external factors. A big part of my dissatisfaction was my mindset and the unrealistic expectations I was setting for myself. If I didn’t change that, it didn’t matter what I did; I still wound up feeling like I was not enough.
So (to make a long story long!) through a life coaching podcast, I was exposed to the thought model that I now use with my coaching clients, and it was like a light went on for me. I realized a lot of my thinking was hurting me. I did a lot of work on myself and my mindset with the tools of coaching and being coached, and it made all the difference!
Now I can handle whatever life throws at me. I am more balanced, independent, self assured of my value both at work and at home and I’m excited to live my life on my terms.
Do you have a niche in coaching?
I exclusively coach women physicians. It has been a fascinating journey and I am compelled to help other women physicians learn the skills of coaching, earlier, before they reach burnout like I did. I love to coach them to help increase their confidence and fulfillment in their careers and relationships.
What surprises have you have about your client's professional lives and needs since you started?
It has surprised me how much fun we have in coaching and how many friends I have developed in my clients and the coaching community. Group coaching has been deeply meaningful to me, both as a participant and also in the group coaching programs that I run.
There is such commonality among women physicians and what we struggle with. What I mean is that we are a brilliant, hardworking, dedicated, capable, powerful, compassionate group. Yet on the whole we lack self compassion, we put others’ needs ahead of our own, and many of us feel inadequate much of the time since we are trained in a system that relies on external validation. We don’t recognize our intrinsic worth and when things go wrong with patients or our families, we are extremely harsh and unforgiving with ourselves. We also negotiate for ourselves on the whole quite badly. I love helping physician women grow into the best version of themselves and realize how much value they contribute and how worthy they are of their own love and compassion.
What one piece of advice do you have for physicians who are not satisfied with their careers?
Before you switch jobs, clean up your thinking. A lot of us think if we can just switch jobs, partners, institutions, % FTE, etc we will be happier and more fulfilled. If we do that without looking at the thoughts that are contributing to our dissatisfaction, we risk recreating the same situation wherever we wind up. If you are a people pleaser, hate saying no and take on too much work without setting boundaries in one job, chances are you will do the same in your next job if you don't work to change. Through coaching I help clients take radical responsibility for their lives. As long as it is up to your boss or partner or kids to change in order for you to feel happy and fulfilled, you don’t have much control. Recognizing that how you think about EVERYTHING Is what really creates your life is a huge game changer.
How can a doctor know when it's time to call a coach?
I love this question! Everyone can benefit from coaching. A common misconception is that coaching is only if you are having trouble or are unhappy. I am very happy and successful and I still commit to investing in coaching for myself because it helps me set new goals and pushes me to attain them, as well as work on the parts of me that I’d like to improve. Think about athletes: Poor performing athletes need coaches. Michael Jordan needed a coach. Being a human is both wonderful and also incredibly challenging, especially as a physician and as a woman. The culture of medicine does not focus on taking care of us and we in turn do not do a very job of caring for ourselves. We pay a price for that, just look at the rates of mental health problems, addiction and suicide in medicine. We need help and there is a stigma around pursuing it. Coaching should be part of medical education so we learn the tools of resilience and self preservation. I could go on and on.
What is your favorite thing about coaching?
My clients! Meeting them, getting to know them, seeing their strengths and watching them transform and grow and reach their goals. They are incredible, each and every one.
You still maintain work with Teladoc- what are the benefits of doing that?
I enjoy it because of the members I am able to help. Currently I work exclusively with Transgender folks in a longitudinal virtual care program. They are an incredible and gifted community of folks who have unique challenges in navigating the healthcare system. I love getting to know them and helping to make it easier for them. These relationships enrich my life.
You can contact Dr. Leitner, karenleitnermd coaching at www.karenleitnermd.com
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