Sixth in a Series: The Non-Medical Profession That Completely Changed How I Practice Medicine
By Stephanie Wellington, MD

After four years of medical school, three years of pediatric residency, a year as chief resident, and three more years of fellowship training, I was finally a Neonatologist. It was what I had always wanted.

So why was there this nudge that something was missing? It showed up at 3 o’clock in the morning when I was taking care of a critically ill newborn. Or when I was making that phone call to update parents during the night.

I loved clinical medicine and caring for the babies, but it was heartbreaking to sit at the bedside with a mother and father as they willed their newborn to live. That part left me feeling helpless. I wanted to do more for the family. I wanted to ‘fix it’ for them.

I went looking for answers to the lack of support I felt as I sat at the bedside of a critical patient.

A life coach provided guidance, and that is how I found coaching. I was not looking for another career path; I was just trying to figure out what was missing in this one.

As I learned about coaching as a profession, I realized it was my missing piece: Meeting families where they were in their journey, allowing them to process information and the impact it had on their life on their terms, acknowledging their feelings, and validating their reactions to help minimize the guilt that many parents have, especially mothers, because they felt like they were not able to protect their babies.

Integrating these principles into my medical practice released me from my need to ‘fix it’. It taught me that practicing medicine was a journey I needed to be on with each baby and family.

My mentors had taught me that when delivering bad news it was important to elicit an emotional response from the parents. Coaching taught me to honor their responses and allow families to experience the disappointment of having their baby in the NICU in their own way, whether through an outward display of emotion, sitting at the bed silently, in prayer or other spiritual practices, or staying away from the hospital. This became more important when I took care of patients from different cultures and backgrounds.

The shift occurred when I delivered medical care to a newborn who had surgery. The mother expressed her fear of touching her baby because she didn’t want to hurt her. I walked her through the process of quietly connecting to her heart and her love for her daughter. Gently she touched her daughter’s fingers and watched her sleep peacefully. Then she gradually embraced her head in her palm and moved her other hand to cradle her feet. Her daughter rested comfortably. Tears of love began to flow as she connected to being a mom and loving her daughter without fear of hurting her. Experiences like this made medicine meaningful to me again.

The blend of coaching with medicine has forever changed how I show up for my team, my patients, their parents, and myself.  As I have stepped into more fully realizing my purpose as a physician and a coach, that 3 o’clock in the morning nudge has disappeared.

By Dr. Stephanie Wellington

Neonatologist, Speaker, and Life Coach


Dr. Stephanie Wellington is a guest blogger for InCrowd this month. You can learn more about her work here.  This is a part of a series of women in medicine sharing their experiences in the medical field.  Check our blog for upcoming pieces and you can find our previous pieces here:

First in a Series : What Does It Mean to be a Woman in Medicine?

Second in a Series: No Child Left Behind

Third in a Series : Sexism and Saving Lives

Fourth in a Series : Lipstick and Life Lessons

Fifth in a Series : “And..How Old Are You?”

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