If you’re trying to make a career change, such as transitioning to a non-clinical career, the last thing you want is to make the process harder. Oh my gosh, it’s already hard enough.
Could it be that your personality might be getting in the way? Could it be that the typical physician personality actually makes it harder to change up one’s career or to leave medicine altogether?
When I started doing the Enneagram Personality Test on all of my clients, I began to see a very surprising (at first) pattern. About two-thirds of my clients were coming out as the Type 6–The Loyal Skeptic. I had assumed that the most common physician personality might be Type 3–The Achiever or Type 1–The Perfectionist, but I was wrong. I’ve tested hundreds of physicians, and the most common type from my sample population is Type 6–The Loyal Skeptic. And even when this is not the primary type, it is often a close second.
What characterizes the Type 6–The Loyal Skeptic? Could this be you?
Loyal Skeptics are very committed, hardworking, and dependable individuals who like to know what the plan is and in general follow the rules. They are also risk-averse, disliking uncertainty and ambiguity and instead focus on creating security in a variety of ways. Being in an environment that is predictable and where they have control is desirable. They tend to do a fair amount of “what if” thinking about what could go wrong versus what could go right. Imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and difficulty making decisions can occur when they are under stress.
This personality type will typically try to ensure security, including having as much insurance as possible, making sure to have fully-funded retirement accounts, stocking plenty of toilet paper and batteries in the house, etc. You get the picture. They are cautious and like to be well-prepared for whatever is coming down the pike.
And, they make great doctors! In the book, The Career Within You, the top 5 skills that Type 6’s bring to their work are:
- Critical thinking
- Identifying with others
- Taking precautions
It is very easy to see why these skills make for excellent physicians. There are, of course, excellent physicians in all of the other types too.
I have to qualify here that these patterns are based solely on the hundreds of physicians I have tested, so this is a limited and self-selected group. Physicians are found in all of the 9 types. It would be ideal to have a sampling in the general population and see what the overall distribution is.
Nevertheless, one can readily see why the characteristics of the Type 6 personality can present some challenges to the physician questioning his or her career direction, beyond the typical factors that make it difficult for any physician to consider changing careers. The name Loyal Skeptic speaks volumes. When you are loyal, it’s going to take A LOT to get you to think about leaving your current situation, even when you are very burned out. And when you are skeptical by nature, you are going to think long and hard before giving up the security of what you have.
Here is a fictitious example of a Type 6 physician to help illustrate the struggle.
Dr. Robin is 42 years old and has been working as a family medicine physician for 12 years in a small group practice in the Midwest. She has two kids and has been feeling increasingly burned out for the past 4 years. Dr. Robin stays up past midnight to finish her charting. Then after barely 6 hours of sleep, she pushes herself out of bed to get her kids ready for school and to review her patients for the day. She hates being unprepared. She does her best to give her all to each and every patient, but she finds that no matter how much she does, she still feels anxious about making a mistake or missing something. At home, she is tired and distracted, and she doesn’t feel like she is being a good mom or wife. Little things can set her off, and she finds she can become irritable and short-tempered; this is not how she used to be.
When Dr. Robin thinks about making changes in her career, or possibly finding a non-clinical career, all these questions and doubts flood her mind. She wonders,
What could I possibly do?
Who would take care of my patients?
What would my colleagues think?
What if I make a mistake and end up MORE unhappy?
What if I leave medicine and then can’t go back?
This kind of thinking can spiral out of control, and before she knows it, Dr. Robin has pictured her family homeless and living in a shelter because of her decision to leave medicine.
This is, of course, a caricature, as there is no real Dr. Robin. She does, however, represent real doctors out there, both men and women. In truth, these thoughts and feelings can be felt by all of the Enneagram types to some degree. It is also true that the “what if” thinking and anxiety related to clinical practice can also lead physicians to consider leaving medicine and they get stuck in a catch-22; afraid to stay and afraid to go.
OK, deep breath. I am definitely not going to leave you with a problem without a way forward.
For Type Sixes, the way out of this dilemma, of desiring change but being fearful of uncertainty, is to shift the emphasis from finding security in the external world to finding security within, having confidence in your ability to figure things out.
When you look to external things, such job security, bank accounts, relationships, status, etc., as fundamentally more secure than what you have within you, you will feel less confident going into the unknown and trusting that you can figure it out. Of course, money in the bank and insurance and these kinds of things are good, but if you feel insecure within yourself, these things will never feel like enough.
Sixes are definitely able to make this mindset shift when they reflect and realize that they are handling uncertainty on a daily basis and doing quite fine. None of us know how our children will turn out, but we still have them. None of us know how a marriage will turn out, but we still get married. We all know that one day we will die, but we keep on living. Uncertainty is just part of being human.
It is also helpful to look back at your medical training and remember that when you entered medical school, you had no idea how you would do or what you would encounter. But you figured it out as you went along. And that knowledge of successful past experience helps shift the fear of uncertainty from being an impasse to becoming something more manageable.
When you realize that you have within you the ability to figure things out, you know you can handle life, and you become much more willing to try new things and take some calculated risks.
When the inner critic fans the flames of self-doubt and you need further evidence on why you have the ability to figure things out, remind yourself that you are:
Good at planning and preparing
And that you’ve figured out your life thus far!
Type 6’s can also use their abilities and cautious nature to plan carefully and thoughtfully for any type of career change. They just need to not go overboard with having to figure out all the steps in advance or requiring a guarantee of success.
I’d like to make the case that instead of being a liability for making career changes, the Type 6 personality can be an asset. Take all of the commitment that allows one to do a great job at whatever they do, add to it confidence and trust in self to make good decisions and changes, and you have a winning combination.
One of the things I love about the Enneagram personality system is that it is fluid. You are not stuck with a certain type of limiting behavior or mindset. There are 9 levels of development for each Enneagram type. As an individual lets go of limiting beliefs and behaviors, he goes up in the levels and becomes an even better version of their type. A Type 6 at level 5 can be indecisive, anxious, and negative, whereas a Type 6 at level 1 will have more trust in self, making it easier to handle uncertainty and to make changes.
The purpose of the Enneagram is not to label anyone or put them in a box. It is actually to provide a tool for self-understanding that can lead to a profound level of personal transformation and growth. At the end of the day, where you are going is important, but who you are becoming can be the most fascinating and meaningful part of the journey.
If you do not know your Enneagram type but are interested in learning more about yourself, you can click here. The test is $12, and it takes 30–40 minutes to complete.
Happy Holidays to everyone!
P.S.–For my blog on burnout and recommendations for all of the Enneagram personality types, please read here.
P.S.S.–Hopefully in future blogs, I can show the potential pitfalls and the way forward for each of the Enneagram types; in the meanwhile, if you have an interest in a blog on your type, please let me know!