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Doctors at Work Podcast.

Episode #87

How to become a senior medical leader. With Professor Dame Helen Stokes-Lampard

Mat Daniel

14/05/2024

Helen has had a range of senior leadership roles, and in this episode she tells me how to get into leadership, how to progress, and the skills needed to succeed. Many people will have great skills, but they don’t put themselves forward, they wait to be asked, or they wait for the perfect opportunity. However, this means that they may struggle to have the impact that they want, and Helen’s tip is to go for it, learn and develop, and don’t be afraid to fail. She tells me that it’s important to keep eyes open for exciting opportunities, and this also means having to create space by letting go of other things. Our careers are not linear, they evolve all the time, and every step opens up a myriad of new doors and opportunities. Getting to know yourself is key to good leadership, as is knowing the people around you, and picking the battles that you choose to fight. I love her mantra “don’t just moan, do something”.

Helen Stokes-Lampard, Professor of GP Education, is back at UoB following a three-year secondment (2020-23) as Chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC) through the Covid19 pandemic. The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges is the national body that represents and coordinates the UKs 24 Royal Colleges, Colleges and Medical Faculties that in turn represent all the main medical specialities that award higher professional medical qualifications. AoMRC ensures that patients are safely and properly cared for by setting standards for the ways doctors are educated, trained and monitored throughout their careers. She sits on the Expert Panel which advises the national AI Frontier Taskforce and Chairs the Independent clinical oversight group for the GRAIL/Galleri study. Additionally Helen is a GP Principal in Lichfield, the founding Chair of the National Academy for Social Prescribing (NASP), the founding Chair of the Dames Commander Society (DCS) and a Trustee of Macmillan Cancer. She was Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) 2016-2019 and has held many other national medical leadership positions. Helen was awarded a DBE for services to General Practice in the New Years Honours list January 2022. You can find out more at https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/clinical-sciences/stokeslampard-helen and on her LinkedIn page.

You can also watch on www.youtube.com/@dr-coach/videos.
Production: Shot by Polachek

Podcast Transcript

Mat: [00:00:00] Welcome to Doctors at Work. My name is Mat Daniel, and this podcast is part of my mission to help doctors create successful and meaningful careers. Today, I’m having a discussion with Professor Dame Helen Stokes Lampard, who has had a wide range of very senior leadership roles countrywide. And in this episode, she tells me how to get into leadership, how to progress and the skills needed to succeed.

Now, many people will have really great skills, but they don’t put themselves forward. They wait to be asked or they wait for the perfect opportunity. But that means that they struggle to have the impact that they want. And Helen’s tip is to go for it, learn and develop and don’t be afraid to fail. She tells me it’s important to keep eyes open for exciting opportunities and that also means having to create space for those things by letting go of other things.

Our careers are not linear, they evolve all the time and every step opens up a myriad of other doors and opportunities. Getting to know yourself is important for good leadership. As is getting to know the people around you and picking the battles that you choose [00:01:00] to fight. And I love her mantra of don’t just moan, do something.

Helen: Welcome,

Mat: Helen. Tell me a little bit

Helen: about yourself. Thank you, Matt. Great to be here. I’m, um Well, where to begin? I guess the first thing to know is that I’m a GP. I’m a frontline NHS general practitioner. I’m a partner in a surgery in Litchfield in Staffordshire. Um, but I guess how I’ve got here, and I’ve picked up a lot of other things along the way.

So I, From Welsh. You can hear from my accent. I’m from South Wales, born and brought up in a former mining village, went to a big, fairly tough comprehensive school. Um, I’m really only realized that I probably had the ability to become a doctor when I done my O levels. I was the last era of O levels in the UK, which baits me and ages me perfectly, should you be so inclined to find out.

Um, Uh, up until then, I knew it was something around healthcare I wanted to do, but I hadn’t [00:02:00] thought I was bright enough to do medicine. Anyway, I went to a sixth form college, went, decided I wanted to get out of Wales. This was the mid 1980s and, you know, it was a time of great opportunity and excitement.

You could feel the energy in the country. Things were coming out of a very dark place in time. And so I found myself in St. George’s Medical School in London, where I was an undergraduate and had a really, Awesome time. Um, and I, I realized I come from a family where one of our sort of family mantras is don’t just moan, do something.

So if you’re not happy about something, don’t just whinge and moan, but actually get on, do something about it, which has sort of always meant a degree of active activism or practical application or practical application of your energy. So I got involved in the students union. Uh, which as an undergraduate is awesome thing to do because you get to do sort of medical politics, as well as quality and standards, as well as the sort of social and membership type things that students unions give you.

Um, and I ended up taking a sabbatical, uh, to become student union [00:03:00] president in St. George’s in 1994, which was a big move. Um, and it opened all sorts of doors for me because that was the time where medical education was being re re reviewed massively. So I got involved in. Rewriting the medical curriculum at St.

George’s at that time. Throughout medical school, I knew that I loved almost every clinical discipline. I knew I wanted to be with patients. I wasn’t going to be more lab, science focused. I was patient focused. But beyond that, I enjoyed just about every clinical discipline I ever did. And I intended going into gynae oncology.

I’d got into medical school thinking that was my area of interest, partly because the experiences I’d had as a teenager. Um, and nothing dissuaded me from that. And so that was the career path I went down and due to life events and getting married, I ended up back in South Wales as a junior doctor. And that’s where I started my own G career, did that for several years and then more life events happened.

And I’m happy to pick up on any of these if you’re of interest, uh, but ended up having a career change and a rethink about what I was going to do next. [00:04:00] And I think I, the way I framed it in my head was, well, if I’m not going to fix them one by one, I’m going to fix the whole flipping lot of them in one go, and I decided to move into public health medicine.

Um, and my husband and I were relocating to the Midlands and I sort of knocked on the door of the public health people in the Midlands and said, Hey, how do we get a training number here? Um, and there was the kind of, right. They looked at my CV and they went awesome. This is all fantastic, but you do need some experience in general practice.

So get yourself six months, even three months or do experience in general practice. And then we can guarantee you a training number. Things were slightly different back in the day, but, um, yeah, And so I went to the West Midlands Deanery as it was then and said, Hi, can I get some experience in general practice?

And they went, Oh, sorry. Computer says, no, you’ve just missed the training round for a year. Go off and find something to do for a year and then come back. And I was like, Oh, that’s really sad. You sure there’s nothing? And then a little chap said, actually, what about a bit of research? We’ve got these really interesting academic GP roles.

They’re quite new. [00:05:00] Um, if you could get us your CV by five o’clock today. We could, you could be considered eligible. Now I was working at that time. So I was a senior SHO. That was a thing back in the day. Um, you know, hospital I was in, I was in the hospital making the phone call. Um, we didn’t even have mobiles back then.

This was in one of the secretary’s offices making the call. It was a mid morning. I remember it so clearly. I said, yeah, get me CV and a covering note by five o’clock. And we’ll consider you for this because that’s the deadline. And I said, what would they involve? He said, a bit of research, bit of teaching, probably a master’s in research methods.

I think, Oh, that sounds quite cool, actually. And we said, we put you in a really good practice in, in Birmingham. Um, and so I took the fax number, got off the phone and went to the medical secretary, how the heck do I do this? She said, well, HR will have your, CV won’t they? So I ran down to the HR department in the hospital, begged and pleaded, would they pull my file and give me, lend me my CV in hard copy.

Um, and then [00:06:00] photocopied it, hand wrote a note, faxed it off and then got, you know, I ended up getting an academic GP training post in Birmingham and. I never looked back. I never considered moving to public health medicine because I found my happy place. This incredible mix of being able to do some research, being able to teach.

So we were immediately into teaching undergrads. I might even have taught you Matt. Um, and then, um, but also at learning about sort of leadership in a educational, a higher education context was fantastic. Plus to training 50 percent in general practice and. Suddenly that continuity of care that you give in general practice, understanding the whole dynamics of the person in their society, where they live, the community context, the social context, the familial context, as well as their own individual medical and psychological needs was just an eye opener.

I, yeah, I came home as it were. So romping on, I, so I stayed with my academic career throughout. [00:07:00] And in fact, I’ve never left Birmingham as an academic institution. There’ve been plenty of opportunities, but for lots of reasons, I stayed put and I’m now a professor of general practice education. I went down the research route originally.

I ended up running, I discovered that I was okay at research. I got my PhD, did tick those boxes. But actually what I was good at is getting stuff done and organizing things. And so I ended up leading the clinical trial, the Birmingham Primary Care Trials Unit and NIHR accredited unit for a few years. But then as other parts of my career were taking off, I had to move away from research and I moved across to education, which I loved just as much.

But you could do education part time, whereas you couldn’t do a serious research career part time. And I ended up heading up community based medicine in Birmingham for several years, running a master’s program and so on. But in parallel, that passion for fixing stuff and not just whinging, do something, uh, that had motivated me as an undergrad came back and I suppressed it for a while because I got some advice to really nail down and get my CCT, uh, out of the way, get my [00:08:00] PhD out of the way, but then I got involved in sort of medical politics, but from a Royal College’s perspective.

So I got involved with the Royal College of GPs. And that took off. I never expected it to at all. I always saw myself as a backroom fixer kind of person. And I became treasurer of the Royal College of GPs in about 2011. Um, but in a few years, people were starting to tap me on the shoulder saying, you should think about going for the chair.

So the chair of RCGP is equivalent to presidents in other colleges. They just have a slightly different nomenclature. Um, and so in 2016, I was elected as chair of GPs and everything pivoted from then. Subsequent to that, I was chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. I’ve just come out the other end of that.

And along the way, I’ve picked up a host of advisory roles. I’m now a non exec director on the board of NHS England. I sit on the government’s national AI security task force. I’ve got involved in genomics, but my real passion for holistic care means that I set up, I helped set up the National Academy for Social Prescribing, which is a standalone charity, which I chair.[00:09:00]

I’m a trustee at Macmillan Cancer. I’m a busy lady, Matt. But I love it.

Mat: You’ve done, you’ve done masses and masses of stuff. And I’m really interested in, I mean, maybe let’s kind of think of somebody who’s early on in their career, you know, sort of this foundation doctors or students that are listening and they’ll be thinking, you know, wow, how, how on earth does somebody have such an amazing career and do all of these things?

So how, how does a very, very early career doctor get started in medical

Helen: leadership? Look, I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that for me. I’m a, uh, you know, like, like we’re all high achievers in medicine. We don’t get to be doctors without working hard and being reasonably bright and so on, but I’m also quite a planner and I like to know exactly what I’m doing, A, B, C, D.

And actually what I, the, the, the difference I had to make to do any of this other stuff is I had to give myself space to say yes to interesting things. So for me, it was about saying, well, actually, if, [00:10:00] if I want to, if there’s all this cool stuff I want to do and achieve, then I’ve got to make space for it.

And we’re all incredibly busy. None of us feel like we’ve got space in our lives, but to do interesting things, you have to make space. And what happens is when you take interesting things on, you find the space for them, you make the space. So give yourself permission. to try things, give yourself permission to make a space for things, but also giving yourself permission.

And I was very lucky. I came from a family where I was given permission to try things and not succeed. Cause if you only try things, you think you’ll be brilliant at this, you’re going to miss out on a whole heap of stuff that you might be good at. You’ll just never know. So permission to fail, I guess, is the dramatic way of putting it.

And what it means is So, so I’ve done stuff and I, I robbed through things and I’ve done things for X amount of time. And then I’ve moved on some of them I’ve moved on from because not, well, fail is too dramatic a word, but I realized that others could do it better than I could, or it’s fine. And I’ve learned stuff, but that’s probably as much as is right for me or for them.

the, for others. So [00:11:00] I guess being prepared that you can leave, you can move on from things. It doesn’t have to, everything doesn’t have to be for life. And I, you know, I came into medicine and certainly as a general practice expecting to be a GP for life. Yeah. And I actually, 20, I’m 22 years on, I’m still a GP partner.

That’s the one thing I’ve stayed doing from. So from the day I got my CCT in general practice in August 22, I walked straight into being a part time partner and I remained a part time partner, but that’s been the only constant, everything else has evolved and moved and ebbed and flow. Now I’ve stayed employed at the university of Birmingham throughout all this time, but I’ve had myriad different roles.

I’ve been off on secondments and sabbaticals. So I think awareness that the future doesn’t have to be set in stone, going down one path does not mean it’s the only path. I think medicine, we’re very linear when we think of careers and certainly training routes seem very linear, but you can step out of it.

I mean, obviously there’s the step on and off pathway. which are quite a formalized way of [00:12:00] doing it now, but don’t be afraid. You know, you’re never wasting time when you try something different. You should never look back at things and think, Oh, that was a waste because in that year, I didn’t do anything.

You learn something different.

Mat: So, so many really, really good tips. And if I maybe just go through them one by one. So the first thing you said, making space. Um, for interesting things, because, you know, there’ll be lots of people listening, and maybe if I think of my conversations, you know, I’m too busy, you know, this is a really great opportunity, but, but I’m too busy, and I don’t know whether sort of people talk themselves, um, out of it, and so I’m wondering, is this, were you, did you proactively, did you sort of say, okay, I’m going to keep some space behind, so that when something interesting comes along, I’m gonna do it or did you sort of say well something interesting comes along and you kind of say okay Something else has got to go and then you know, you go for what you want And then you fix the rest of the stuff afterwards

Helen: I don’t think I’ve knowingly ever had a gap in my life, Matt.

So [00:13:00] I didn’t keep space just in case. Um, I think it was probably over time. I got a realization that as these opportunities came, so it’s the hairs on the back of my arm test for me. If something is really exciting, I’m thinking, Oh, wow, that’s a really good, interesting thing to do. Okay. So if it’s giving me the tingle, giving me the hairs up on the heart, how do I make space for it?

So it’s, it’s then looking at the rest of my portfolio. What can I flex? But also you then have to get to the point where you give things up and we’re not good at giving things up as a general, as, as, as a spec, as a species, as a tribe doctors, we’re not great at giving things up, um, because we’ve taught to be winners and to be successful.

Uh, and so it’s reframing, giving something up as moving on, as wrapping it up, not giving it up. And that, or passing it on to somebody else, you know, sort of, I mean, one thing I’ve really made a. Point of is if I do need to move on for something actively working to find a successor, whether that’s always thinking what succession who’s [00:14:00] coming up, the lads behind me, how can I help them up?

Um, it’s also when the time comes, if something happens unexpectedly, I mean, rather recent one for me was the AI taskforce thing. I literally had a phone call from number 10 Downing street. And you know, can you help with this? big, crazy, mad, unpaid thing. And it fitted all my tingle tests. I had no space in my life at all for it.

It was breaking all my own rules of taking on any more unpaid work, but it was so interesting. And so therefore it’s right. I’m going to have to stop something else. I’m going to help you find somebody to do what I was doing. But that’s also something about valuing your own time and your sanity and your life outside of medicine as well.

Um, I’m not very good at it. I’m sure you have much better people to talk to me talk about that than I am But at least knowing your boundaries and how far you’ll go. Sorry. I’ve digressed again, Matt.

Mat: Yeah. Yeah Okay, and you said does this permission to fail because lots of people be thinking i’m going to go for this role If I know that i’m perfect if I tick all the boxes I have all the qualifications and I can guarantee that I will be a [00:15:00] success I think lots of us kind of talk like that, but you you know, you you’re giving a talk Totally different perspective of of going for stuff.

Can you tell me a bit more about that?

Helen: Yeah, I, I had a, some really great academic supervisors and people, amazing mentors and people I’ve worked with over the years. And I remember chatting to one non clinical female academic who said to me, stop being such a girl about things, Helen, what, what, what, what would one of the, what did she use the phrase?

I mean, she, what would one of the testosterone brigade do in this situation? And what she meant, it wasn’t necessarily about being male and female. It was about a different mindset. It was being about a more commercial mindset, being a more assertive mindset. And I was in a situation where I was frustrated.

I wanted to be promoted. There was an opportunity for promotion, but it was pretty clear that the. University didn’t want me to do that particular job. Um, and she recommended a book and it’s a trashy book in some ways. It’s called, and I’m very dated now, but at the time I [00:16:00] found it super helpful. It was American.

It was called Why Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. And so written, Louis Frankel is the author, written, it’s American lady, but it was talking very much in a business context by women who Um, sometimes I often don’t put themselves forward and not prepared to go for something until they’re ultra perfect.

And, and I said, I said, I think the gendered part of it nowadays is largely unhelpful, but the traits, if you recognize the traits in yourself, and I mean, there’s other stuff we’ll come on to in a bit about, I’ve always stuck very much with a code about, I will always play nicely. I will not compromise my values and my integrity, but Being prepared to go for something where you don’t tick every box on the person’s spec or the essential experience, or you might be a slightly left field candidate can lead you to some really interesting, exciting things.

In that particular situation, her prod of me gave me the confidence to go for it. And actually I did apply for the job. I spoke to the head of department who was clear with me. He didn’t want me to do the job. And I explained to him why I was [00:17:00] doing it so that people would know I wanted to be promoted. I was getting exasperated that I wasn’t being promoted where others were.

Um, but I said to him, I will go for it. And you will have to short, or the university will have to shortlist me because I fit enough the criteria and I’m an internal candidate. But then I will pull out. I won’t go through the charade of you having to interview me and me being interviewed, knowing that you’re not going to give me the job.

And that’s, that’s exactly what I did. And it was a really, I said, probably at the time, it was the bravest thing I’d ever done. Yeah. And, um, I got promoted within four months of that. Uh, it was a really interesting thing. I would, it felt like a reckless thing to do, but I just felt I was being overlooked and I was getting resentful of that.

And I mean, it’s, I don’t know how applicable that is to other people, but sometimes you do need to stick your head above the parapet to people to know you’re there, but it’s going to hurt anyway. Sorry, slightly different point, Matt, but it was, um, It was, I said it was scary to do, but he [00:18:00] respected me for it because I played, I did it very nicely.

I didn’t humiliate anyone. I, I, but I told him I was not going to do what he wanted me to do, but I was going to respect his view by not putting us through a further charade. I

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Helen: show.

Mat: Now, you know, this strikes me as super important because there’s so many people that I talk to, you know, people that are brilliant, but nobody knows who they are. Yeah. They never apply. They say it’s not for me, you know, such and such.

Helen: Or they’re waiting to be asked. They’re waiting to be spotted. Yeah. In busy departments, it’s easy.

And particularly if you are a nice person, you’re a person of integrity, you don’t push yourself forward because [00:19:00] culturally, that’s not what we do in the UK. Other nations and other cultures are actually much better or weak, but we can find it uncomfortable when we see people putting themselves forward.

But there is, there are ways to do it. And

Mat: yeah. Yeah. So, you know, people kind of sit back and as you say, you know, they, they, nobody knows how brilliant they are and, and it’s, you know, they, they never, they don’t achieve, they don’t climb through the ladder, through the ranks for whatever reason. Um, and actually that’s bad for all of us as a profession, because it’s like a

Helen: really good talent

Mat: out there.

Yeah. So, yeah. Okay. Um, and, um, you know, this, this, sort of the idea that you might do something and then, you know, you might fail and, you know, and that’s okay. Yeah. Can you tell me about it? It’s perfect. You know, do it. If it turns out you’re not good at it, well, that’s all right. You learn and then you move on, you know, tell me a bit more

Helen: about that.

But this is almost the antithesis of what we do in medicine. We don’t We, you can’t risk failure in medicine because lives are at stake and the health implications. So it is quite a [00:20:00] different way of thinking from our professional and clinical interactions. But in terms of other roles, managing, leading, sorting, actually, you’ve got, you don’t know if you’re really good at something unless you try.

And many of us in medicine are polymaths. Yeah, we have skills in all sorts of areas. I mean, some of the best musicians and artists I know are fellow clinicians. I’m not by the way, I’m not one of those things. So, Why shouldn’t we be good at management or leadership or all the other things? But until you’ve tried it, you don’t know.

I always knew that I could get stuff done. So I know, I knew that I was a complete a finisher because I would finish things and other people just would never get round to the last bits of it. I, so I, I knew that I was a, I guess an activist in the sense of something bothered me. I would do something about it, but.

I was trying, I mean, research management was a classic one. I mean, I had no idea if I’d be any good at that or not, but that was one where it was a bit of, I guess, a bit of talent spotting in the department. I think probably they were scrabbling around for who the heck could do this, because most of the [00:21:00] researchers didn’t want to do research management.

They wanted to do research. And I’d shown myself to have aptitude for getting stuff done and sorted. You know, if a party needed organizing, I’d sort it. If a rota needed doing, I’d get it done. Um, yeah. But what was the, one of the big things there was that I had a head of department who’s basically said he’d have my back.

And it was a kind of, so some, so there’s something here about people believing in you. So this is not about cozying up to people far from it, but this is, if you know that you have a good constructive relationship with a senior colleague, and having them as your safety blanket, which you try some stuff.

It’s so helpful because in the vast majority of the time, bright, intelligent people who have a go at stuff will make it work. And they’ll only ask for help when they really need it. And so the investment, if you’re in a position to support others, then the investment of saying, I’ve got your back. I believe in you.

Or sometimes just tapping somebody on the shoulder and going, have you thought about this? I’m sure you could do this. Can just, a lot of [00:22:00] people just need a little gentle shove to have a go. and knowing that they’re supported and held in that process is incredibly powerful.

Mat: Um, okay. So I’m also interested that quite early on, you’ve identified that you’re really good at getting stuff done and sort of, and it strikes me that sort of, that you’ve probably gone from one role to another and you got stuff done, but it’s probably a superpower, um, that, that you have.

Um, but I’m wondering, okay, so, you know, we’ll all have a superpower, won’t we? In your case, it’s getting stuff done. Somebody else will have a different superpower. And how, how, how did you, how did you use that knowledge of what you’re really good at? How did that help you achieve, um, to where you are today?

Helen: So I think it, this goes back in first, first of all, how do you know what you’re good at? How do you know what, when, when, when it’s a superpower versus a learned skill, you know, how do you know what’s innate and what’s learned? And if you are okay at something, how can you get better at it? And I think there is a really important thing in knowing oneself.

I think [00:23:00] universities and medical schools are very good at Filling us full of knowledge and training us to be doctors. They’re good at helping us be political, uh, medical citizens, a part of the medical community. They’re not always great at helping us know ourselves. We should, by the time we’re qualified and working as doctors know how we learn best, we should know how to manage our own stress and some of our personal resilience, and we should have some leadership skills, but that still isn’t the core of what makes us, what makes me, me and you, you.

So. There are various things that happen. So I remember doing just a few basic, um, personality testing stuff. Really, when I was quite junior, you know, I was doing GP training. We did some personality stuff. And I’m thinking that was inherently incredibly interesting. Then an opportunity came up to do a leadership and management training program.

It was a. reasonably low scale one that was a regional thing. Um, and it was great cause it was actually for anyone in the primary healthcare team. So it was GPs. I think it was about 60 percent of the people who took up the post for GPs, but they were also practice managers, they were practice, [00:24:00] they were pharmacists, they were.

I think there was a dentist, but you know, it was a really good multicultural, multicultural, multidisciplinary group. And so we learned from each other, but we had a bit of formal teaching about what is management, what is leadership and learning about ourselves and personality testing. And I found that really powerful because suddenly appreciating I am a student.

Strong Myers Briggs extrovert, and I am married to a Strong Myers Briggs introvert, but we share all the other personality traits. We are beautifully matched. And so our yin and yang is on our energy, his introversion to my extroversion, and he needs his cave and time to recover after social interactions, and I need more social interactions to thrive and be energized.

Then later on understanding my personal energy and how that impacts on other people. So realizing my natural energy levels are really quite high, but that can be exhausting for lots of people. So I consciously dial down my energy levels. In most situations in meetings, I’ve learned, I have to dial it down and keep it very controlled.

And I’ve just learned gradually to adapt my style of [00:25:00] the years. The innate Helen, the inside me is bubbly and frothy. Um, but actually to be really effective, I’m much more effective dial down. Then over time, I’ve done, had the opportunity to do some really good, intensive leadership courses, and you don’t need to go out and spend a fortune on things.

There are things around, but each one will give you a different, something different. I’ve had the privilege to have mentors and coaches at different times, and they’ve got, each got their place, but I’ve never stuck with one thing all the way. You don’t need the same thing for life. And the last thing I learned about myself that’s been super helpful is how I bounce back from disappointment and failure.

What my natural resilience is, if you like, um, my elasticity and what I know about myself is that I’m an incredibly empathetic, emotionally intelligent person. So I tune into people and which helps with my communication skills. Which means that normally that would be making very hard for me to be a tough grown up leader because you’ve got to do [00:26:00] difficult things.

And if you feel too much for people when you’re doing really difficult things, that makes it hard. But I bounced back. I’m lucky. I’ve got natural resilience. I take it hard. I feel it hard, but I get over it. I bounce back and knowing that about myself, that was different from. The majority of people was really helpful.

So, so I was told that about myself. Most of the other things I worked out through life. So the lesson to me is learning about yourself because all the skills you learn about yourself, you can then apply to the teams that you work with and the others, your colleagues. So what is it about them? So they.

Haven’t, they’re really bad at bouncing back or actually they, they’ve got this incredible creative brain, but they’re terrible with following rules or sticking. So they’ll always turn up late, but they might create something awesome. They, this one needs, I should never bounce in with an idea and just talk to this one off the cuff.

I have to put it in an email. It makes you be a better leader and it makes you communicate much more effectively as a team. Sorry, I’ve gone off slightly, Matt, but

Mat: I mean, you know, this, this is super [00:27:00] important, isn’t it? Because there’s two things here. Number one, you need to know yourself. And number two, you need to know the people.

It’s all about people, isn’t it? You

Helen: know, Knowledge is easy. Google will give us knowledge. It’s all about the people. That’s where the complexity of the challenges and the fun.

Mat: Yeah. And for, for, if I think for people that are early on in their career, There’s something there about really spending time and paying attention, maybe sort of something there about reflexivity of noticing how, how am I doing?

How am I affected? How’s this landing? Because so many people, they just go on autopilot through life. I think, you know, they don’t, they don’t notice what’s happening.

Helen: I call it aiming, not driving. Okay. Do you know people who drive? You see people out in the car and some of them just aim their cars and other people take a pride in driving.

They want to be better at what they do. They want to be with, you know, it’s one with the machine and others, they just kind of, they aim the car. And actually, and it’s the same with yourself. You can drive, not aim your life if you want to.

Mat: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And [00:28:00] also you’ve, you’ve continuously reinvented yourself, you know, you’ve sought, you’ve talked about there’s different learning opportunities, you know, you’re learning about yourself.

So you go from one course to another, you know, from, from one mentor, et cetera, you know, you get different things from different people and there’s different careers. And how, how do you manage to sort of, to, to always reinvent yourself time and time

Helen: and time again. It’s funny, I’ve never thought about it as reinvention.

I’ve thought it more evolution. So one thing’s just led on to the other. Um, but, but I’m very happy, but that’s a really interesting reflection. Um, I think there’s something about, I’m not a badge collector. I haven’t done courses to get badges. Qualifications or tick boxes. I’ve done it just because I thought, oh, that’s really interesting.

So for me, I’ve got to be interested in something. I do know, I do love to learn. So, you know, if we’ve got a builder in the house, I’ll be asking what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. So I can wax lyrical about damp courses and about grades of gravel because of this trivia that I’ve picked up along the way.

Actually, gravel is not trivia. It’s quite important. Um, but I, so, and I am genuinely curious about [00:29:00] people and places. So, so I learn. I think I’ve ended up what’s happened over time is I’ve realized that my real passion is for truly holistic care. So, and just recognizing that people, of course, patients are, have their medical problems.

Of course they have their psychological problems, but they have their social and their spiritual challenges too. And unless we fully embrace all of it, we’re only providing partial care and wasn’t, and to be a good generalist, a good GP, but also if, if all of medic, if medicine. got the totality of the individual and not just the part, we would do, we would far better serve our patients.

And this is a bringing together of Eastern and Western approaches to medicine. We’re terrified of talking about spirituality because it makes us think about religion and we’re all unsure about how, how to do that. When you think about things in a more spiritual sense, about what makes us, gives us satisfaction, what gives us reason for living.

Then you put onto that the social factors, you know, we all know about the social demographic impacts on people. I mean, [00:30:00] you know, that’s massive and far more important than what we do as medics. Then suddenly it all just fits together a bit better. And so all the interests I’ve picked up have been because of that real passion for getting health to be more focused around the patient than the patient to fit in with the vagaries of a healthcare system.

And it’s bizarrely ended taking me down some, I don’t know, not rabbit holes at all, but slightly different things. Like I’ve got the ultimate personalization of care is our genome, right? So, you know, the ultimate personalization is what makes us at the building blocks of life. So on the one hand, I’m interested in social prescribing and how we look after the social elements of people’s lives that the health and care system doesn’t.

But on the other hand, I’m fascinated about the benefits, benefits, benefits, But the limitations of the genomics and whether that’s polygenic risk scores, whether that’s multi counter detection tests, whether that’s newborn genome screening, because it all comes back to this whole approach to care. So perhaps recognizing [00:31:00] what matters to you as a clinician.

So what is it about me as a doctor that I’m happy to ripple out and give me a more rewarding and fulfilling career? So, and for some people it’ll be because they’ve got a real passion for one thing. So it could be, you know, some people develop a passion for a subset of what they do, which takes them. So, you know, whether that’s the criminal justice system, whether that’s legal medicine.

But for other people like me, it’ll be, it’ll open up this breadth, which. oodles of stuff can open up to you.

Mat: Yeah, so I mean i’m interested in in maybe what i’m hearing again in my language rather than your language So feel free to disagree But maybe i’m thinking that there’s a golden thread and the golden thread is holistic care in general practice.

That’s always been the foundation Absolutely. Everything is underpinned by that holistic care. Um, and, and there’s, you know, there’s a golden thread, which is that holistic care, you know, taking the people as a whole, and then, you know, sort of, there’s some skills that you’re really good [00:32:00] at, but, but that, that golden thread is sort of, there’s all of these bits of career that, that, that have evolved.

So, and I know, you know, that was sort of my, my language of, of reinventing versus, um, evolution, but yes, I can see how. How maybe it’s it’s and actually evolution is probably easier if you’re thinking of planning careers because

Helen: you definitely revolution scary. Yes. Yeah.

Mat: Evolution sounds like a better concept, doesn’t it?

I do this and then then I do this and then I do this opens the door and

Helen: it’s awesome. And what I say to people who are in the career path is that Each of these stages you get through opens a huge range of new doors. You may not realize the doors are open, but if you just raise your eyes from the work, the day to day work, you’ll see there are open doors around.

So getting through medical school and qualifying as a doctor, the doors that open are enormous. Actually, CCT is another huge door until you’ve got CCT out of the way. There’s a lot of doors that won’t open to you. And I think we can get caught up in doing pre CCT stuff to get this extra qualification or [00:33:00] get that experience.

And actually more doors open up. Far more doors open up post CCT. And I think, so I think some of the best advice I ever had was get your exams out of the way. Get, I mean, for me, general practice and academic general practice, you don’t do PhDs or virtually never did pre CCT, but it was just crack on and get that out of the way, Helen.

And it was such good advice because it, other doors did open for me. Um, I learned a heck of a lot from the experience as well. So, yeah, I. Back to you. Maybe

Mat: if I’ll bring us to, to a close and perhaps if I ask you to summarize and maybe what would be your top tips for doctors at work?

Helen: So many things about this one, about, so things that I’ve learned is about, um, choosing your battles wise, you can’t fight every battle.

So I’m an activist, but actually I can’t fight every battle. So work out where the power lies. And so, so if you’re going to fight a battle, who’s got the power and work out how to play the game their way. So, um, I’ve certainly learned to [00:34:00] play by the rules. So that’s what I call playing nicely. Treat everyone with respect and dignity, um, because you never know when you’re going to be coming across these people again.

Um, learn the rules that others work by and play by their rules where you can, um, you can only change yourself. You can’t change other people reliably. I think we spend a lot of time trying to change other people. And actually in this world, the only person we can reliably change or modify is ourselves.

I’ve talked a few times about modifying myself. For the situations, whether that’s learning to fit with some very stuffy board rules and regulations to get stuff done. So be it. Whether it’s dialing down my energy level. So be it. And when you’re in a conflict situation, if I assume the other person is, is unable to change, the question is, do I want this conflict to be over?

So what can I do to change it? And that shifting is quite a big paradigm shift. And the final thing is, when you go through life. Um, for me, I’ve had, I’m a soft bellied creature. I’ve had to develop a suit of armor over the years. I think of myself as [00:35:00] I say, and I’m an armadillo because everyone knows what an armadillo looks like.

But the correct analogy is a pangolin, which has scales of armor on its back. And I’ve had to develop. scales of armor to get through doing some difficult stuff over the years. Um, and I still gain new scales of armor all the time when I’m asked to do something difficult or hard. But I want to take that suit of armor off one day.

I want to retain the soft underbelly. So it’s being authentic and true to myself so that I can take the armor off one day.

Mat: Wonderful. Thank you very much, Helen.

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