Medical career counselling for Doctors

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Claire Ponsford

September 27, 2019

How to explore alternative medical career pathways

An interview with Dr Ashe Coxon, founder of Medical Career Planning

As in many professions, medical careers are evolving like never before, with portfolio careers, non-clinical pathways and flexible roles offering better work-life balance all becoming a reality. It’s therefore natural for doctors practising today to take a step back and re-evaluate their chosen career path to consider it in the broader context of personal, professional, financial and lifestyle goals.

Dr Ashe Coxon | Wavelength Medical Recruitment

(Picture above) Dr Ashe Coxon, founder of Medical Career Planning

This is why some of the most popular workshops at Creative Careers in Medicine 2019 (CCIM) last month were the ones focused on medical career planning for doctors looking to explore alternative career pathways. One of the organisers of CCIM, General Practitioner Dr Ashe Coxon, is also a career counsellor and the founder of Medical Career Planning, a company focused on helping doctors to create a fulfilling career within the medical industry. Ashe became interested in career development for doctors while attempting to construct her own career pathway during her early postgraduate training. 

Wavelength co-founder Claire Ponsford talks to Ashe about her unique transition into medical career counselling and how she helps doctors to choose the right career paths.

It was great to catch up with you at CCIM and thanks for taking the time to talk today. How did you transition from clinical roles into the relatively new field of medical career counselling?  

My first thoughts around moving beyond medicine were triggered by a mentor of mine who was an inspiring medical educator and also running my GP training. I looked at her and thought, "That's what I want to do." I then went on to complete a Master in Medical Education around the same time.

When I finished my GP fellowship, I soon realised a five-days-a-week traditional clinical GP role wasn't for me, especially having had my first child at this point. And with my medical education background and own career decision making uncertainty background I kept thinking, “Why isn't there someone who helps doctors with their career pathway and planning? Not a supervisor or a mentor who may encourage them to follow their pathway, but someone independent and impartial to speak to?”

I researched general qualifications in career counselling and how these services could be applied to the medical world. I then completed a Graduate Certificate of Career Development at the Swinburne University of Technology. Funnily enough, I couldn’t find anyone to approach for a job. That’s why I decided to set up my own company and my counselling has taken off from there. In addition to this and my GP work, I’m also now working as the Deputy Director of Clinical Training at Townsville Hospital.

What motivates doctors to contact you for advice?

Generally, I counsel doctors at any stage of their careers, from medical students and junior doctors to specialists who all need guidance and support. I often work with doctors who are uncertain about which specialty pathway to take or who feel stuck in their current specialty area. Doctors who are feeling overwhelmed with workplace stress and are seriously considering leaving medicine also approach me for counselling.

What are some of the most common questions you get asked? And how do you address them?

The typical question I get asked from doctors who want to move into non-clinical areas or want to leave medicine completely is: "How do I do it?". Often I find when doctors are looking for other career options, they haven’t had a chance to take a step back and identify what their issue is with their current situation, and what they really want out of medicine. I worked with someone who went through four different training programs, almost 12 years of his life, without actually asking himself what he really wanted out of a medical career.

We then delve into what they do and don’t like and troubleshoot ways of improving their current situation. Lots of doctors come to me wanting to leave medicine but then don’t. In most cases, it’s just a case of making some small adjustments to make work far more enjoyable. And after this process, if they still want to move out into a related field, we then explore their personality, their values and their past history even further to determine what new area would be good for them and start working towards this.

What’s your general process? What can a doctor expect after they’ve first contacted you?

The First step before we meet is to complete a careers questionnaire so I can gain a better understanding of the doctor’s current situation and why they’ve contacted a careers counsellor. I then ask them to complete a personality and values assessment to help us determine blind spots and to make sure whichever path they take is in line with their values.

Once I have this feedback I then arrange a phone, FaceTime, Skype or face-to-face meeting. This initial appointment usually lasts an hour and a half and we work through career history, current challenges, personality and values. We then create an individual action plan with a post-session report including further homework or tools to assist with the reflection and decision-making process. We will then often have a follow-up session a month or so after this initial process.

Quite often doctors will find one appointment is enough just to get them thinking. Others want three consecutive months with a follow-up appointment six months later to touch base and see how they're going with their career. I would recommend at least three appointments for someone who would like to move out of medicine completely. 

Can you provide a couple of recent examples of where you’ve successfully assisted doctors through this counselling process?  

A Paediatric Registrar came to me recently who was extremely unhappy in their job and wanted to leave. After personality testing and some true reflection on previous career experiences, we identified it was the administrative and time management elements of the role that were causing the stress. In fact, they loved their patients and the clinical side of things. By making some small adjustments such as setting aside administration time, and even just having a good diary, they were able to make work much more agreeable and rewarding.

I’ve also been working with a GP who was no longer enjoying her practice. We identified that she wanted to stay within medicine but was keen to move to a different area without needing to retrain. We then drilled down into what she liked and disliked about being a GP and she finally decided to move into Occupational Medicine.

What would be your final piece of advice to doctors who aren’t happy in their current role?

Even though doctors come to me wanting to leave medicine, often it’s just a case of some self-reflection and taking the necessary steps to change elements of their current roles. I love facilitating this process and seeing the positive end results.

Great to chat, Ashe and thanks so much for your valuable insights.

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