Wellness Insights from Dr. Jeffrey M. Smith: Orthopaedic Traumatologist, Coach, and SurgeonMasters Founder

Cydoc & Dr. Jeffrey Smith

Today the Cydoc team is pleased to interview Dr. Jeffrey M. Smith, MD, a practicing Orthopaedic Traumatologist and a Professional Certified Coach (PCC). He has more than 800 hours of one-on-one surgeon coaching experience and 500+ hours of International Coaching Federation (ICF) accredited coach training. 

With over 25 years of experience within academic and private healthcare systems, Dr. Smith has developed his own system for coping with the ups and downs of being a performance-driven surgeon. Through his personal experience and studies, he developed The 8 PRACTICEs of Highly Successful Surgeons, a coaching methodology that addresses communication, leadership, time/life management, and more. He continues to be driven by his passion to positively impact the lives of patients recovering from injury, and helping other surgeons create the life and practice they want.

You can find his thoughts about the practice of medicine on the SurgeonMasters blog and as the host of the SurgeonMasters Podcast, Life Improvement Strategies for the Surgeon Who Wants More… in 10 Minutes. He frequently shares his perspective in presentations on topics like physician wellness, performance improvement, surgeon coaching, and his personal experience with the benefits of burnout.

Dr. Jeffrey M. Smith

Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Smith!

What motivated you to start SurgeonMasters, and what services do you offer physicians?

Lack of wellness and fulfillment amongst many of my physician colleagues is what initially motivated me. I was seeing too many respected colleagues leave their clinical practices earlier than expected. Beginning to see the physical toll that it took on myself, I started to investigate what I might do if I wasn't physically able to keep operating or if I thought the regulatory interference was making it too difficult to provide quality care. In my investigation into a potential exit strategy from clinical practice, I stumbled upon Atul Gawande's book "Better." I envisioned myself as a proficient surgeon coach. This led me to undergo professional coach training, where I acquired the core competencies of coaching and my initial certification as a Certified Professional Coach. Currently, I coach and collaborate with fellow physicians and surgeons, aiding them in constructing practices and lives more in alignment with what they envisioned post-residency and fellowship. Our focus spans practice development, effective communication with colleagues and others, team management inside and outside the operating room, conflict resolution, management of burnout, and the pursuit of goals within and beyond clinical medicine. Whether venturing into adjacent fields like device creation or launching an app with medical ties to a different audience, coaches guide others in aligning their aspirations and sustainability. Besides coaching, I have extended my influence by training fellow physicians to become coaches, holding a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) designation with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). In fact, our training program is the first ICF Level 1 accredited physician coach training.

Organizations can either sponsor their physicians to go through training or build customized internal coach training for healthcare professionals to address the specific needs and goals of the organization. Additional services include presentations, webinars, group coaching, and consulting. 

What are the biggest challenges you see physicians facing today?

The primary obstacle confronting physicians today is the inherently unsustainable nature of our existing healthcare system. This system tends to use physicians as disposable soldiers. It diverts focus away from patient care to administrative and business tasks that contradict our values and ethics. The system leverages our ethics and motivation to a point where it overwhelms most physicians' lives. Only a few organizations are beginning to recognize that physicians need to be treated as a highly valuable limited resource that can be higher performing if balanced with self-care and wellness. There is an urgent need to reassess our trajectory, as the current path seems unsustainable. The cause of the challenges for each physician may be unique, and individuals in the field of medicine must contemplate how to align their values with their practice type. To rectify the situation, physicians must play a more significant role in shaping the healthcare system, or at a minimum, must have realistic expectations of their individual contributions to patient care. The business of medicine needs to be balanced with providing quality and compassionate care. The complexity and scale of the healthcare system necessitate a shift in mindset towards empowering highly educated patient-centered physicians to lead and reshape the system. At a minimum, physicians need to be empowered to manage their own lives.

What are your favorite strategies for reducing burnout?

My favorite strategy for reducing burnout is combining coaching and reflection to empower physicians to create positive changes in their careers. Burnout indicators are rarely a failing of the individual physician. Rather they are signs that the work environment has either excessive drivers to burnout or significant misalignment to the physician's values. While burnout, moral injury, and disengagement are not exact opposites to wellness, joy in practice, and engagement, we have found that the pursuit of the positive is far more effective. The pursuit of wellness is an ongoing process. It requires constant effort towards the aspirational state of wellness, recognizing that it exists with ups and downs.

People complain that wellness isn't about yoga and mindfulness. However, what if it is?

For me, integrating yoga into my routine has been instrumental in promoting physical wellness, particularly managing the strain on my neck, back, and other body parts from years of performing orthopedic surgery. What initially began as a practice for physical wellness evolved into a source of mindfulness, almost a meditative state, influencing not only my physical and mental wellness but also contributing to emotional and spiritual well-being. I was very resistant to meditation for much of my life, unaware of its true benefits. Everyone's path to wellness is different, and for some it will never include these or other effective wellness activities. Most of us resist things we don't understand. However, strategies to reduce burnout or increase wellness don't require drastic change. One very effective strategy is incremental change and an increase in activities that bring wellness and/or a reduction of activities that drive burnout. 

Individual preferences and responses to activities vary, as exemplified by the executive director at SurgeonMasters, whose aversion to yoga contrasts with my positive experience. His primary wellness activity is golf. This diversity highlights a crucial lesson in medicine—each of us must conscientiously assess what fosters our wellness and actively support those endeavors while eliminating or minimizing the impact of adverse factors. Practical challenges, such as dealing with electronic medical records (EMR), are ubiquitous in healthcare. While complete elimination may not be feasible, finding strategies to mitigate its impact on well-being, such as optimizing charting efficiency, is essential. 

Cydoc Offer: Feeling overwhelmed with charting? Try our Smart Patient Intake Form for free, to receive clinically relevant notes before outpatient appointments. Save 10 minutes per visit!

Are there any resources you’d recommend to physicians for optimizing the efficiency of their practices?

Through our community of physicians, we continue to add resources to our website. However, physician coaching is considered to be the foremost customizable practice resource available. Coaching provides a uniquely tailored experience. The coach's sole focus is on you, fostering a personalized relationship focused on your goals and your growth and learning to achieve them. Despite the expense, the value lies in the complete customization to your values and needs. Unlike consultants or practice advisors, coaches don't dictate actions; rather, they guide you through reflection, focus, and decision-making, helping you discern the optimal steps to achieve your goals and address challenges you bring to the table.

What are your future plans for SurgeonMasters?

I firmly believe that every physician and surgeon should have a coach to support their best practice. That will require growing understanding among physicians and the broader healthcare community, and ongoing efforts to train more physician coaches to fulfill the need. Much like athletes at their peak, we, as high-performing individuals, can greatly benefit from the presence of a critical thinker and advocate by our side. This partnership is instrumental in extracting the utmost from ourselves, particularly when we may already be achieving 90% of our potential. It is in that last 1 - 10% where the potential for elevating our performance to the next level truly resides. 

We have already started to spin off our Physician Coach Training, where we have a flexible 60-hour program that can be completed at your own pace.

We continue to add new programs and events that raise awareness around coaching, practice optimization, and performance improvement. We are adding more coaches to our diverse panel of coaches. We are not worried about the growth of the industry and competition, because we always seem to be on the cutting edge of best practices in coaching and wellness. We smile every time we see evidence of growth of these topics in healthcare. You might say that our parallel mission is to advocate for the well-being of all physicians and surgeons.

What “words of wisdom” would you want every physician to have the chance to hear?

Practice Your Best! And make it sustainable. 

The follow up is: 1. What does your best practice look like? 2. What do you need next to practice your best?  3. What do you need to be more sustainable? 

The answers to those three questions are different for everyone. Now, in order to achieve any of these goals, one needs to PRACTICE them. This PRACTICE is the verb, an action which is deliberate and 1-10% beyond one’s comfort zone. For example, if one wants to achieve wellness, one needs to practice wellness. Don't assume that practicing wellness is easy or comfortable. If one wants to achieve fulfillment, one needs to practice fulfillment. Practice doing things that provide bits of fulfillment. 

How can our readers reach out to you or follow you on social media?

Visit JeffreySmithMD.com to learn more about Jeff.

You may also email jeff [at] SurgeonMasters [dot] com to send Jeff a question or feedback.

Visit SurgeonMasters.com to learn more about SurgeonMasters.

Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Smith!

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