How auditing my practice in 2020 helped me manage my own imposter syndrome – a peek inside Coach GP

It’s hard to believe we are already well on the way into 2021 – it really just feels like more of 2020 doesn’t it.

Well, even so, life moves on and I need to focus on professional and personal development as much as anyone. In fact, given that’s my core work these days, it’s probably even more important for me to get a handle on where I am currently at, where I am going, and what, if anything, I need to change. 

So, over the summer I have spent some time auditing the who, what, when, where and why of my coaching practice. 

Fun facts and figures

The who...

Overall, during 2020 I worked on an individual basis with 98 individual doctors (80% female) and ran 24 group sessions.

Most doctors were based in metropolitan, rural or remote Australia (from every State and Territory). Others were based internationally (primarily NZ and UK). The doctors were from across a range of levels and specialisations:   

  • GP fellows and registrars (44)
  • RACP fellows, advanced trainees and basic physician trainees across a range of sub-specialities including endocrinology, gastroenterology, genetics, haematology, medical oncology, nephrology, paediatrics, rheumatology (20)
  • FACEM consultants and trainees (9)
  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology consultants and trainees (4)
  • Other consultants and trainees from a range of specialties including anaesthetics, anatomical pathology, intensive care, medical administration, radiation oncology, ophthalmology, psychiatry, public health, surgical specialties (12)
  • Other medical officers and locums (5)
  • Non-clinical doctors including those working in medical education and academic roles (4)

This broad range of specialty representation shows how none of us are immune to needing support.

The what...

Broadly speaking, here’s what we worked on (in alphabetical order):

  • Burnout (15)
  • Career decisions (39)
  • Imposter syndrome/confidence (28)
  • Exam motivation or other preparation (13)
  • Leadership (3)

Of course, this is a bit of a false cutdown because many of these issues are interlinked and multifactorial. Eg many people who come wanting to talk through a career decision have issues such as burnout or imposter syndrome sitting underneath it. None of this was terribly surprising – the general pattern fitted with previous years and reflected the anticipated issues arising in the context of a pandemic. 

BUT…Of the 98 doctors who worked me, 42 who had a single session only. While the doctors who came more than once booked in for an average of 3 sessions (range 2-9 sessions). 

When I saw this data I started to worry – maybe I’m not any good at coaching. This prompted me to take a closer look at just why people had only come for a single session.

The why...

So just why weren’t people coming back? Well the data both surprised and encourage me. Let’s have a closer look: 

BurnoutFive doctors came for a single session related to burnout. Of these three had a workable plan by the end of the session. The remaining two had other issues that needed resolution before burnout could be addressed.

Career decisions: Of the 39 doctors coming to talk through a career decision, 25 only came once. Of these more than half (15) had come to a decision or felt confident that by the end of the session they had a plan to work through their decision. A smaller number (6) were either not ready to work on the decision or they felt that talking it through had helped and provided enough for them to think about without taking any particular action. And four had psychiatric, or other work-related issues that precluded successfully working on the decision at hand. Recommendations for appropriate supports (such as GP, psychologist, psychiatrist, medical defence organisations) were made.

Exam preparation: Eight of the doctors wanting support with exams only came for a single session. More than half (5) were motivation related in the context of the pandemic and a single session was enough to get things started. Others came to discuss exam strategy and whilst an initial plan was devised they cancelled future appointments for unknown reasons but I suspect related to cancellation of exams for pandemic reasons. 

Imposter syndrome: Only four of the 28 doctors who wanted to work on imposter syndrome came once only. They all made a second appointment and subsequently cancelled it for unknown reasons.  

On reflection...managing my own imposter syndrome better...

This was a most interesting and informative exercise for me. It certainly prompted some changes to my website and booking procedures. But I learnt something much more important about imposter syndrome. 

To be sure, when I realised just how many people had only come once, it absolutely triggered imposter type thoughts – ‘perhaps I’m no good at coaching’ or ‘maybe I’m doing something wrong’ or ‘really I’m just a big fat fraud’ etc. 

But I’m really glad I made the decision to look more closely at the data – even to the point of reading notes of sessions for all those doctors. Because what I found was that for most people, we were managing to come to a resolution of an issue in a single session – and that is very different from feeling like I wasn’t meeting my client needs. 

The realisation that first impressions and emotion based judgements can be far off the mark is very powerful. I cannot recommend strongly enough to people who doubt their competence to acually look at data – and look at it closely enough to really understand what it is saying. 

So, it may sound cliched, but asking yourself ‘what is the evidence for this?’ can help you not only reframe unhelpful thoughts – but see for yourself much more accurately where your competency really stands. I don’t think I’m a perfect coach – and there is always room for improvement in any endeavour. But now, at least I have some kind of reality to inform my own learning goals for 2021 and beyond. It brings new meaning to the idea of evidence-based practice.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to work on imposter syndrome, burnout, career decisions or anything else. As data from 2020 shows, you are likely to find a way forward in a relatively short time. 

If not now, when? 

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