Between a global pandemic and what the president of the American Psychological Association Sandra L. Shullman calls a “Racism Pandemic,” people have a lot on their minds. All of a sudden, there are so many unprecedented challenges, and many physicians have had to pivot their practices in order to find a model that works in this new normal.
Dr. Sunny Smith is a family physician in San Diego at UCLA. Not only does she have a busy family practice, she is a teacher at UCLA, coaches a group of women physicians called Empowering Women Physicians and has a podcast by the same name.
The following discussion took place live on my Back to Busy Summit in early June to address how to keep building our private practices now in COVID-19. The full webinar is available on-demand now.
In her coaching, Dr. Smith teaches physicians to look at what’s going on in the world in order to find a way as a physician to believe you can affect change.
Coronavirus changed the world as we know it, and for us as doctors, suddenly we had an intense experience with a disease that we’re only just learning about. Doctors and their families are getting COVID, patients are getting sick and dying, and with the financial burdens, doctors are forced to decide whether to lay people off, apply for unemployment, or furlough some staff.
These are just some of the tough decisions that Dr. Smith finds herself coaching people through lately. She addresses everything from how it affects their business and finances, to their home life and homeschooling.
For many of these challenges, there is no clear answer. “Do you lay off one man or another? Do you have them both go part-time? Most of the time, we have to choose and know that the decision we made was the best one at the time.”
In recent weeks especially, says Dr. Smith, “There has been talk about racism, uprising, inequality and social justice. These disparities have always been there, but there is attention and heightened awareness on it right now.”
Depending on your personal experience in the world, “You are likely to have different thoughts and feelings about the exact same circumstance.”
There is a perception that physicians can get used to anything, says Dr. Smith. “We are human beings as diverse as they come. Becoming a doctor is like recruiting to save humanity, but in med school, the system trains a little bit out of you. This pandemic has been a powerful space for a lot of people to reconnect with their humanity and realize that whatever they are thinking and feeling is a normal part of the human experience.”
In private practice, a physician struggling with the decision to lay off someone may feel alone, when in reality so many others are going through this right now. “Being in a community with other people who also having to make hard decisions is helpful because they can offer input from their own difficult experiences.”
There are no right answers. “It’s not like you can pull out the clinical practice guidelines from 2019 and say, ‘Oh, this is our number. This is what we should do.’ Everyone is making this stuff up as they go and doing the best they can. But when it’s you writing the checks or signing the unemployment slips and you’ve never been through something like this, it helps to have someone there as a guide.”
Of all the changes that have taken place in healthcare since COVID-19, some are actually for the better. Take telehealth, for example. Although people have talked about telehealth visits before, it took a pandemic to make it happen. “Everything changed like rapid fire. Our limiting belief was that healthcare couldn’t change did change because it was necessary,” says Dr. Smith.
Telehealth was one of those things that wasn’t urgent before this. There was no doubt that it was important, but there was no rush to make it happen. Dr. Smith says, “We have an opportunity to do this better than the way we were doing it before. Healthcare delivery and a physician’s wellness plays a part in sustainability and helping with burnout.”
If we can make the changes that might cost us in the short term, we can make changes that allow us to have more self-efficacy, enjoy our work, and feel proud of the difference we are making. This will prolong our careers, serves more patients, brings in an income to support our families and our missions.
Now that the system was forced to change so radically, it’s been proven that change can be implemented. Telehealth is just one of the examples of the innovations that doctors are using now that can revolutionize the way we do things in the future.
It’s time to reframe the thought from what is possible to what’s wrong and how can we fix it. This is an opportunity to take what hasn’t been working in healthcare and make changes going forward to improve.
Dr. Smith sees this as a time of reflection to consciously ask: “What do I want to do with purpose? For example, I always wanted to work less, but I never thought that was a possibility. Now, there is much more time to appreciate the small things, the awareness of the world around us that many of us never had.”
Not having a daily commute plus the faster speed of telehealth visits affords physicians more time to spend with their families and take up new hobbies.
Whether you are on the frontlines or in the background, this is a big identity shift for doctors. Physicians are left asking if they will be working with less PPE, if their salary or hours will be cut. Because of that, physicians have reached out to Dr. Smith to look at what else they can do professionally. “They are looking at entrepreneur work, clinical income and real estate investing to supplement money and time right now. It’s an interesting time to reassess and focus on your purpose.”
If you have a growth mindset, then despite all the challenges of 2020 you can look at this as an opportunity. Life’s been brought into sharper focus as we juggle with our own mortality. There's just been all this opportunity to decide if the current way of life is working, or if now is the time to shift.
1. Recognize the “idea sparkle”
The first step to make a transition is to believe that change is possible if you want to explore it. You have to start with the interests you have and know that it can be a good thing to act on those interests. When you have that inclination, the “idea sparkle,” you have the interest to make it happen.
2. Know your resources
There are so many resources out there depending on what you are looking for.
3. Surround yourself with people who think differently
When you are around those that are not supportive of change , you’ll be less likely to make a transition. You don’t have to be enslaved to medicine, but rather find the meaning for you.
4. Find a community of physicians
A little support goes a long way when it comes to change. Speaking with a community of physicians who may have made similar changes can help send you in the right direction. Read blogs, find communities on social media, or take the reins by creating your own community of doctors going back after the pandemic.
When you want change, having the right resources can fuel the flame to make your possibility a reality. Community and connection is huge for staying inspired and inspiring others. In this moment of great uncertainty, it helps to look at it through the positive lens of opportunity.
Find out more at empoweringwomenphysicians.com to check out Dr. Smith’s summer program on living life with purpose and learning more about the entrepreneurial side.
This discussion was part of our Back to Busy Summit in early June for nearly 500 physicians, came together to discuss moving forward in their businesses during COVID-19. The Summit is still available on-demand here.