85: Malpractice Lawsuits: Recovering from Trauma with Dr. Laura Fortner

Being involved in a medical malpractice lawsuit is a concern for any physician and can lead to serious trauma. Whether you’ve been involved in a lawsuit or not, and whether you’re in medicine or not, we have all faced trauma in the past, and we will continue to do so in the future. So the discussion we’re having today applies to everyone.

Dr. Laura Fortner is an OBGYN and medical malpractice coach specializing in PTSD-like events in medicine. Once you see how the habits you have in your everyday life can be linked back to past trauma, that’s when you can start to change these trauma responses.

Dr. Laura Fortner frames this discussion around medical malpractice lawsuits, but the symptoms of trauma are the same regardless of the cause. Discover what the path to healing from trauma looks like, the mental and emotional impacts of trauma, and some approaches that allow us to start recognizing and healing from any kind of trauma.

Habits on Purpose with Kristi Angevine, MD | Malpractice Lawsuits: Recovering from Trauma with Dr. Laura Fortner

Being involved in a medical malpractice lawsuit is a concern for any physician and can lead to serious trauma. Whether you’ve been involved in a lawsuit or not, and whether you’re in medicine or not, we have all faced trauma in the past, and we will continue to do so in the future. So the discussion we’re having today applies to everyone.

Habits on Purpose with Kristi Angevine, MD | Malpractice Lawsuits: Recovering from Trauma with Dr. Laura Fortner

Dr. Laura Fortner is an OBGYN and medical malpractice coach specializing in PTSD-like events in medicine. Once you see how the habits you have in your everyday life can be linked back to past trauma, that’s when you can start to change these trauma responses.

Dr. Laura Fortner frames this discussion around medical malpractice lawsuits, but the symptoms of trauma are the same regardless of the cause. Discover what the path to healing from trauma looks like, the mental and emotional impacts of trauma, and some approaches that allow us to start recognizing and healing from any kind of trauma.

If you’re interested in connecting with me for private coaching, I do keep a small panel of private clients and I love helping them explore their minds and explore their habits so they can make real shifts in their lives. To get more information, click here!

What you'll learn from this episode:

  • The complexity of the trauma that comes from being named in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
  • Laura’s experience of being named in a malpractice lawsuit.
  • How trauma-informed healing radically changed Laura’s experience of life.
  • The complex range of physical and emotional symptoms that commonly appear when you get named in a lawsuit.
  • Laura’s advice for anybody who gets served with a malpractice lawsuit.
  • The ways that trauma impacts your relationships and robs you of certainty.
  • How to see your immediate responses when you get devastating news.
  • What memory reconsolidation is and how it helps you heal from trauma.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Powerful Takeaways:

03:30 “We, as physicians, have bad outcomes or adverse events that really change us.”

09:01 “Anger comes in the beginning stages, but then we go to self-doubt, shame, and we hide.”

20:36 “Trauma is any psychological event that still affects you today.”

24:59 “If you’re going to get help, you need to go to somebody that understands memory reconsolidation.”

34:19 “The unfortunate thing is we embed ourselves in the identity of what we do. If what we do is threatened, our whole sense of self is threatened.”

36:20 “That phrase when we go through medicine, “Do no harm…” really does hurt us in this realm of medical malpractice because it’s implying that we hurt somebody.”

Featured on the Show:

Related Episodes:

Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to Episode #85. This is your host, Kristi Angevine. Today's episode is a special conversation about navigating a medical malpractice lawsuit. My guest is Dr. Laura Fortner, an OBGYN and medical malpractice coach that specializes in PTSD-like events in medicine. Let's get started.

Welcome to Habits On Purpose, a podcast for high-achieving women who want to create lifelong habits that give more than they take. You'll get practical strategies for mindset shifts that will help you finally understand the root causes of why you think, feel, and act as you do. And now, here's your host, Physician, and Master Certified Life Coach, Kristi Angevine.

Hello, hello, everybody. Welcome back to this week, if you are new, welcome to the podcast and thanks for listening.

As a new listener, if you want to get a sense of the podcast as a whole, I highly recommend that after you listen to this episode, go back, and listen to earlier episodes, especially Episodes 1-7. They'll give you a taste for some of the foundational concepts that I discuss, and I think are so important when you are reflecting on your habits.

Today's episode is a conversation episode, and it's about a heavy sounding topic, medical malpractice. Now, whether you've been involved in a lawsuit or not, whether you're in medicine or not, the essence of this discussion applies to you.

Why? Well, all of us have faced some trauma, or will face something that we experienced as a trauma in the future. So, what you're going to hear today, elaborates on one particular example of navigating trauma. As you listen, you'll likely recognize things that you do in your everyday life that might actually be connected to a past trauma, regardless of if you're in medicine, or if you've ever been named in a lawsuit.

My guest today is Dr. Laura Fortner. She's an OB GYN who works as a laborist. She's known as the Med Mal Coach, because after she personally had a nightmarish experience with being named in a lawsuit, she found Trauma-Informed approaches that radically changed her experience. And she realized that she wanted to help others going through the same thing.

I've wanted to discuss the complexity and trauma that can go hand in hand with getting named in medical malpractice suit for a while. So, I'm really delighted to have Laura here today.

Kristi Angevine: Laura, Dr. Fortner, welcome to the podcast. It's so great to have you here.

Dr. Laura Fortner: Thank you so much. It's an honor to be here. I'm excited to share today.

Kristi: So, for the listeners who have not met you and haven't seen the work that you're doing, could you just introduce yourself.

Laura: I am a Board Certified OBGYN. I live in rural Ohio. I actually live on a farm, my husband's a farmer. We have four beautiful kids. I started what we're going to talk about today really just as a healing journey for myself.

Kristi: For people who don't know what you're referring to, in terms of what we're going to talk about today, you help physicians, as well as other people, navigate the complexity of the aftermath of being named in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Laura: Yeah, and in fact, it actually starts before that time. A lot of times we, as physicians, have bad outcomes or adverse events that really change us. Many of us do, in the back of our minds, in those moments, think, “Oh, maybe something could happen.” Or we're in an interaction with a family and we feel this. Or a patient comes and gets records.

I like to say, this starts before litigation, and even getting named. A lot of physicians come to me when they're feeling like it's going to happen, which is important in the work that I do.

So, just a little bit more about me, I did get sued about 10 years ago. My case went on for a very long time. And as a physician, as you guys all can relate, we go through multiple feelings during this time, but also physical; we get physical and emotional symptoms. I was one of those people that it really just rocked me to the core. I just couldn't overcome the emotions and the physical part of it.

With that, after several years, I decided that I needed to figure out how to heal myself. What happened is I went through a three-week long trial; very traumatic. At that moment, at the end of it, I found what was called “memory reconsolidation.” What I like to say, brain technology and how to change your brain.

I went in healed myself. I went to a person that knew how to do this. And through my healing and transformation, as well as getting coaching, I changed my life with it. I didn't mean to start a business or help other physicians, I actually, honestly, was just trying to heal myself from the traumatic experience that I went through getting sued.

Kristi: That's kind of how it goes sometimes, right? You just, you, we, try to get through something. And then during, and then afterwards, it's almost like you can't but help want to share, so that you can help the other people that you now see are just in abundance, needing things.

I do want to go back to something you said, something really important, and I just want to sort of have you flush it out a little bit. You said that when you got sued, you had all sorts of emotions. It basically impacted every facet of yourself. Like, how you thought about yourself, what you were feeling, and your behaviors.

Can you share some examples of ways that it affected you, in terms of your behaviors? Or how you thought about yourself?

Laura: Yeah, yeah, this is so important. So, I had an inkling that I was going to get served at some point in my career, because I had this case where patient came in and got the records. It didn't happen. In OB cases, if you're an OB, you realize it doesn't happen immediately, a lot of times, because they can see you up until the child is 19 years old. In the state of Ohio, for sure. In most states they can.

So, it happened several years later, five to six years. But one of the major events that affected me so deeply is I got a knock at my door. I was at home with my kids that day, it was actually a holiday at, right after a holiday. I went to the door with my three little kids. At the time, they were five, three, and one. I answered the door, and it was a sheriff. He handed me the papers and said I was served.

And all I could do was get my kids in front of the TV, and I went into my bedroom. It just changed everything for me in that one moment. The day before, I felt good as a physician. Knew who I was. Had good clinical decision making. Was confident. Patient with people. Was caring. Was empathetic. I was all the things, and that one instance changed everything.

What happens with this type of thing, and of course I did the thing that I now advise my clients not to do if they haven't gotten served yet, is I read the paper. I read what it said on the serving papers. I'm going to advise you, if you get sued, don't read it. You don't need to; your lawyer can interject and tell you what was on those papers.

But unfortunately, I read those, and the words “medical negligence.” The words on that thing… We reading it as physicians, we feel as if we're just not as good as we thought we were, and maybe we're not good enough to be this physician helping people. That's kind of what we go down to. Those thoughts start coming, which really changes how we feel about ourselves. And then, it changes the behaviors that we do.

Most commonly, we start to feel guilt, shame. We might get anger in the beginning; anger comes in the beginning stages. But then we kind of go to this sort of self-doubt, shame, and we hide, we isolate. We're told, by our lawyers and our insurance company, we cannot talk about this, which does not help us heal or get better.

In the meantime, it actually does the reverse, which is a problem that needs to get solved in our community. Really, the answer is, you can talk about how you think and feel. You just can't talk about the details in the chart.

Kristi: That's such a huge point for clarification. This deserves a pause. Anybody who's going through this, who has been told you cannot talk about this, and feel tremendously isolated… What they interpret that to mean is, “I can't talk about my thoughts, my feelings, my behaviors, and therefore I'm 100% alone.” When the reality is, it's just the specific details that pertain to that case that are off limits. Tell me if I'm saying that incorrectly.

Laura: No, that’s absolutely correct. In fact, what I believe the lawyers and insurance companies should be saying, the very first thing is, “I have witnessed other physicians going through this.” If they don't know it, because they're not physicians themselves.

But the empathy should be there and just say, “You know what? There is a resource for you. If you need to talk about it, there is a resource.” Instead of, “Don't talk about it with anybody.” That's what happens. We take things literally, we follow rules.

Kristi: One hundred percent! Somebody says, “Don't talk about it,” well, I can't even ask you a question about what you mean by that, right?

Laura: I mean, we don't do it. So, that's what I did, I didn't talk about it. The common things that happen with people are hiding, isolating, but we also then start second guessing medical decisions. We start over charting, procrastinating, ordering multiple tests, playing defensive medicine. That's not helpful.

These are some of the behaviors. Other behaviors, some people are short with people, some people lash out, they're not as nice in clinic anymore, all the gamut of the downward spiral of, “Now I'm thinking I'm not as good as I thought.” When we start behaving in these ways that really show that.

I’d also like to interject and say, some people, some physicians, are really good at compartmentalizing, and then resisting and avoiding the whole thing. What they tend to do is numb. “I'm just going to watch Netflix. I don't want to be alone.” They can't be by themselves, so they'll watch Netflix, they'll overspend. They’ll be on the internet spending money, they'll drink, over drinking, drugs. All those things can happen.

Then, the relationship problems. So, it doesn't just seep into medicine; I'm talking a lot about medicine. But then the whole gamut of relationships; their spouse, their kids. Everybody notices a difference.

Kristi: I'm so glad you put a name to those two different flavors of the behaviors that show up. The sort of the defensive medicine aspect versus the ‘let me compartmentalize so that I can get through this’ aspect. I think it deserves to be said that if anybody listening to this goes, “I'm doing those things. This is me. I'm completely over charting, I'm second guessing, I'm also numbing with Netflix and over shopping.”

This could be separate from a lawsuit, right? You could do these things because it's your natural baseline, right? But this doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you as a physician or as a human. It's just sort of the downstream effects that can occur in certain stressful situations.

One of the things that you said, I'd love to go back to it, you said, we've got these behaviors. For a lot of the coaches who listen to this podcast, we can sort of conceptualize our behaviors as coming from ultimately, thoughts about ourselves, beliefs about ourselves, in the world. And then, eventually, they drive how we feel and how we show up.

So, if somebody is second guessing, or like you're saying, you're over charting and doing the things, you mentioned it coming from a thought of, “I'm not as good as I thought.” I'm wondering, for you, as you kind of looked back on your experience of things, and transformed things, were there other thoughts that you noticed that were driving these behaviors? In addition to I'm not as good as I thought. Or was that the primary one?

Laura: Well, we all know there was multiple thoughts. “My career is going to be ruined. My reputation, what are people going to think? Doctors are going to think that I'm not very good, if the word gets out. I'm going to lose my license.” Like, these downward spiral trends.

Most of us go to, “My reputation is going to be ruined. My license is at stake. I'm not going to get credentialed by the hospital. These people are going to think that I'm not very good.” All of those things are very normal. They're “normal” thoughts during this time.

Kristi: Those of you who are listening and cannot see Laura right now, she did air quotes for “normal;” normal thoughts in air quotes.

Laura: Yes. But they are normal. I have clients that think, “Gosh, I did make a mistake. What does that mean about me?” Then they make that mean something or, “Maybe I am guilty,” even when they followed standard of care.

Medicine, as we know, it's not black and white. There are multiple ways to treat one entity. And there's multiple ways to do it that still follow standard of care. But so many of us were so perfectionistic and hard on ourselves that we start then thinking, like an OB might say, “Well, maybe I should have done that C section. I didn't know at the time, everything looked okay at the time. But now, in hindsight, maybe I should have done it.”

Well, it's really hard to do that. But these are thoughts that we start second guessing and thinking and then ruminating on in this case; about all the things we could have done differently or should have done differently. Or, “Maybe this is true, maybe I am at fault.” I mean, those are normal things, even if we didn't do anything wrong.

Kristi: Right. I think that deserves huge emphasis, regardless of what happened in the case. This is such a common phenomenon in terms of how many of us would cope.

Laura: Even when there's ridiculous cases that get dismissed... By the way, these cases last a long time. The average time is 4.9 years. If a case gets dismissed and frivolous, in the states that allow these cases to go through, it can take two to three years just to get dismissed.

And in the meantime, even though it's a crazy, ridiculous case, many of us go down the path of thinking the very same thing, “Maybe we did do something wrong,” even when we didn't. I guess I just I really want to emphasize that because we pigeonhole ourselves, thinking that we really did do something wrong sometimes when we didn't.

It's crazy with the brain. I like to separate out the brain and the human being because the brain does this.

Kristi: You alluded to something a little bit ago, about the impact that this can have. Not just in your professional life, not just with what you do in your workplace, with your patients, with your colleagues. But how it can affect your relationships in personal life.

Would you be comfortable to just sort of sharing a little bit about the aftermath of you dealing with this lawsuit, in that big chunk of time that you had to traverse? Was there an impact on your personal life?

Laura: There was a huge impact on personal life, my marriage. What happens is, when you start not feeling that good about yourself, because of what you're going through… We can talk a little bit about trauma in the brain… But when you start doing this, the things that you believe about yourself you then project onto your partner.

Honestly, for a long period of time we were in a rocky phase, and really thinking we would maybe have to get a divorce. That's not something that I ever wanted, nor did he, but when you go through a traumatic experience, you start thinking that your partner cannot relate.

And by the way, even if you're married to a physician, I have lots of clients that say that their partner can't relate even when they're in the same profession. So, it doesn't really matter what they do.

We have this whole trajectory of feeling so isolated and alone when we go through this experience. Because of, I believe, multiple things. Not just that we're thinking that, and the external forces of our insurance and our lawyers telling us not to say anything, but also culturally. It's not in our culture to go out and say that we're getting sued. It's many factors.

But at the same time, anything that you think about will reflect eventually on how you feel and behave. But when you have a trauma, on top of that, I believe, and with working with people and clients and tons of physicians about this, that pathway that gets created, we know nothing, in terms of brain technology.

We do not learn this. We don't learn it in med school or residency. We don't learn it in anything that we do, on how to overcome something like this. That traumatic pathway becomes so autonomic, and in your day job and your home life, everything is totally affected by it because you're acting and behaving differently now. Because of this traumatic pathway that got developed with this event.

Kristi: I can definitely second what you just said. None of this stuff was something I learned. I went to a medical school that was very holistic and learned about a lot of things. I know that there's limited time in which we can learn things; you can't learn everything.

But the knowledge in the world of trauma, trauma therapy, trauma brain science, is so vast that it's surprising to me that this is not something that we even had a little footnote in. At least, in my experience in medical school and residency.

You've talked about trauma, you've talked about the impact of trauma in the brain, and I think we can all agree that getting named in a lawsuit can be considered a traumatic event. For some people, it may not. They may not experience it that way. But for many of us, we do. How do you define trauma?

Laura: Yeah, so trauma, to me, is a psychological event that still affects you today. So if you still think about it, it probably was traumatic for you. Because here's the thing, we go around and rate trauma in this world, and we shouldn't rate it. Because we all are different human beings, with different perceptions, different backgrounds, different experiences, and trauma for someone is not trauma for another.

It's not good or bad. There's no rating here. It's how you respond when the “now” represents “back then.” It can be very subtle. It's autonomic, it just is the response. Meaning that, and this is in general terms, not just with med mal (medical malpractice).

But if I go to med mal, for me, I would always get a trauma response when I got an email from my lawyer, or a confidential letter on my desk. To the point that these are the symptoms I had: I had heart racing, nausea, a pit in my stomach, didn't want to open it, didn't want to talk to people. Actually, I would get a little frustrated and snappy with people.

Those are the sorts of things that would happen because I got an email from my lawyer. And I didn't even open up the email, to even know what it was right?

Through time, it can be more subtle. But if it's still there, and it's still affecting you and you notice it, if you start noticing that these are happening, it is still trauma to you. That a pathway got created in the brain, from whatever happened, that activated your amygdala, which built an implicit memory.

This is really important, because implicit memories are what creates the trauma response, per se. And so, this implicit memory has different components in it. One of them is emotional, plus physical symptoms. But there's a couple other components. I won't get into all the science of it.

And then, anything that represents the now, today… if I would see a nurse that happened to be at this event, I would get this trauma response. I would start thinking about it. It would affect me. Now, I could resist and avoid it. I learned to do that. We learn to do that in med school, by the way. We learn to compartmentalize, resist, and avoid.

So, that's what I would do for a long period of time. But it doesn't help you get beyond it. There is a way to rewrite the pathway. There is a way to unlock that pathway, and actually change the emotional trauma response to that pathway.

Kristi: I love that you planted that seed of hope for people. Because one of the things I think would be wise to sort of pause and mention here is, number one, I thought it was so beautiful how you describe some of the subtle responses; you don't even open the email, but you have that response.

When you have your clients, or for even just in your own experience, what would you make having that response mean when you get an email? So, the email comes in and you have that response, or you notice yourself being snippy, or you feel nauseated, the pit in your stomach. Where my brain is going, I would imagine you would make that mean, “Oh, it's just true my career’s going to be ruined. I'm not as good as I thought.” Because if this felt neutral to me… It's just confirmation of this very thing, as opposed to “You know what? I'm just feeling a stress response.”

Laura: The interesting thing about the brain is, once you get this traumatic pathway, we tend to reconsolidate. So, this implicit memory that we create with whatever happens to us, gets consolidated back into the memory. Every time you bring it up you reconsolidate it. It's changeable, it's malleable. But most of us, all of us, really, reconsolidate it more negatively. We never rewrite it in the better direction.

Now, you can't rewrite it all the way positive. I mean, there's all this science behind it. But what we used to do, is we used to… I want to go back to the research just a little bit, because you talked a little bit about this. And this is the reason why I want to bring this up is this is so important. I tell people all the time, if you're going to go get help, they don't have to come to me, but they need to go to somebody that understands memory reconsolidation and how to do it.

Because we used to think that we could habitually and intentionally change thought patterns; and we can, they do work. So, it's kind of like with intentional change, where you work really hard, and you intentionally think… But when you have, unfortunately, a trauma pathway that has been there, you have two competing pathways.

You make a new pathway with the intentional change. And guess what happens under severe stress and circumstances? You go back to the trauma response. So, it's like those clients that, if you're a coach on here listening, if you have somebody stuck, if you have someone that maybe they're good and they leave, they stop coaching with you, and then they come back six months later, it's this.

Because they tried to make a new pathway, which works, it does work. That's the science of it. The problem is you have to intentionally continually work hard at it and maintain it. Okay? If you totally rewrite the traumatic pathway, it's effortless, and you do not maintain it. It's very different. But it's like a combination safe, and you have to know the steps to unlock this traumatic pathway to get to it.

It's very interesting. But this research, this data, was discovered in 1997. So, it's surprising that in 2023, not very many people are talking about this.

Kristi: It's frankly, incredible. When you look back at your journey, was this the thing that was the most helpful to you personally?

Laura: Yes. So, I sat in a three-week trial. I was on the stand for six hours, twice. I mean, three hours each time. I witnessed the plaintiff's attorneys telling me how bad of a physician I was; all the things, okay? I knew at the very end… And by the way, they awarded the plaintiff $11 million at the time. So I didn't win, either. I don't like to say win or lose. I did win in many respects because this event in my life changed everything for me.

But I knew that I needed to do something after that event. I had learned about what this was. I went and got someone to deliver, how to do it, to me. Then I went through coaching, sort of consecutively a little bit, because I didn't know if it was going to work.

But what was so interesting is, the more recent the event occurs, if you go get this done, and learn how to do it very quickly, you can overcome it so much quicker than somebody that has been dealing with this for years. You can still overcome it and still rewrite it, it's just easier if the event happened much quicker.

What happened, is my emotional trauma response now, to the entire case, even after I lost, was remarkable. It was incredible. My husband was like, “What is going on?” He couldn't even believe the transformation. It's just because I thought and felt so differently. I was able to rewrite that traumatic pathway. Where I knew who I was.

As a physician, I knew I was good. I was certain about that. I was confident about that. And before, I was not. That's the best way I could explain it. I like to give this analogy, if I told you that you had blue hair right now, and you don't of course have blue hair, you'd be like, “No, I don't have blue hair.” That's the certainty that I'm talking about.

Because when these things occur with physicians, especially when we get a bad event or we get sued, that certainty goes away. That whole ‘you're a good physician,’ you'd be like, “Well, I know I'm a good physician,” before. Then after, you're like, “I don't know that.” There's so much uncertainty that starts to develop after these things.

Kristi: Yeah, the image that's coming to my mind is the trauma response almost makes like a superhighway of a neural pathway that is very easy to stumble upon. Or like the deep grooves down a ski slope, like the way that you go, massive thing. If you don't get to the heart of that, what you end up doing is sort of like you have a little piece of embroidery thread of a pathway.

That is, “I'm pretty sure I'm good enough doctor. Logically, I know this, and people tell me this.” But it's so minuscule compared to that trauma response, in terms of its robustness. That so just doesn't compare.

Therefore, if you can get to the heart of things and then truly have that certainty of ‘I'm good as I am,’ then that the whole trauma, it's almost like the highway, just poof, kind of shrivels up, and is as small as the intentional thought.

Laura: So, so good, that was such a good analogy. It's so true, it's so much easier for us to get back on the highway than to go these little routes. That's what our brain wants us to do. Because these traumatic pathways get so deeply rooted, and we just continue to reconsolidate them, in that pathway, the same way, negatively.

Because we don't know how to do the other way. No one has taught us that. I just also want to put out there, especially for coaches listening, that some of you are already doing this but you don't even know that you're doing it. You are unlocking the pathway. You are helping people rewrite this traumatic pathway.

But there's no reliable way. You're not sure how it's happening, but it is happening. What I really want to teach all of us is how to have the predictability that will always happen for you. So, you can always have those amazing results with people. That's what I've been doing over the last several years, is really honing that.

So, that where once it used to take me six months to help somebody, I probably could do it in four sessions. I just finished up a session today, and it’s so remarkable, the before and the after. Before even the case ends. This is the other thing, you guys, is getting that peace of mind and that feeling of who are as a physician before it even ends. It's okay, whatever happens with the case. This is where you want to get to.

Kristi: Yeah, that's just such a profound idea. The idea that you can have a sense of contentment, peace, just feeling settled, even though you don't yet know the outcome, is pretty phenomenal. So, there are so many resources out there with trauma, trauma and brain science, the evolutionary neurobiology.

If they weren't going to be able to hear you speak at a conference, they weren't going to be able to work with you, or they didn't have a need to work with you because they haven't been sued or they weren't going through something, but they really wanted to learn a little bit more, do you have any, one or two, favorite resources, where you say, “This is a good primer. This will whet your appetite.”

Laura: You know what? I actually have this book right here. Because I think that this is so easily written, and I've read all the books. But to find one that's so easy and effortless, in terms of… “How To Remove Trauma Response” by Alun Parry is such a good book. It's so easily written.

I have a couple other favorites. I don't have them in front of me. I mean, if you're going to read, that's what I would read. I don't know of any type of courses yet. Although, there may be in the future. There might be some out there too, that I don't know about.

Kristi: That is perfect. I haven't read that book. So, I appreciate that recommendation. I love that you had one book, because a lot of my listeners are like, “I’ll go buy all 10 books,” and read maybe three pages of each one of them. So, one book, that's all. That's all they need.

Laura: Yeah, this book is excellent. If there's one book, go get that one. Because you can learn how to do this from that. It could be your resource. You can have it open when you're with clients. You can sort of figure out what you need to do next. You can separate out sessions. It's a good book.

Kristi: I want to take a little bit of a turn, to something that I heard you say, that I think I've read that you'd said it. I really loved how you phrased it. You said, “We are a profession that mixes up who we are with what we do.” I know that applies to people who are not in medicine, as well.

But I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit to how, when we mix up who we are as a person with what we do, that can affect our experience of the difficulties in our job? And, how we think about ourselves.

Laura: Yeah, that's so good. The unfortunate thing is we then embed ourselves in the identity of what we do. If what we do is threatened our whole sense of self is threatened. That's what happens in medical malpractice. We pour our whole life sacrificing everything into medicine. I mean, the amount of schooling we went through to the hours we put in, and the money we put in.

We sacrifice those little moments of missing birthdays and missing first steps and missing these events that are really important in terms of family lives, to help other people. This is one of the most profound reasons why we mix this up in medicine, because what we do is deeply within us. In many respects, it has to be, if we’re sacrificing our family to go do it.

When that occurs, then our brain just identifies that what we do is who we are. Then, anything that will threaten that livelihood or threaten that job… You could do it in a corporate world, right? You could put your whole self into a corporate job or a 100-hour workweek, or whatever that is, and you're doing the same thing. It's not just medicine, right? It’s the same thing.

But when your livelihood is threatened, by any way, shape, or form, it's deeply personal. It's not only deeply personal in the realm of money/career, I want to point out it’s deeply personal in the relationship part of it. For physicians, it’s patients. We have empathy. We love our patients. We have this thing where we’re obviously not out there to do any harm. I think that that phrase, when we go through medicine, “do no harm” really does hurt us in this realm of med mal, because it's implying that we hurt somebody.

Most often, we didn't do that. But that's what it's implying. And so, that phrase is deeply ingrained in us as well. When this happens, it can rock us deeply. So, I think what we want to do is realize that who we are is a multifactorial human being that has incredible loves. We love medicine, but we love other things, too.

If we deeply soul search about the things we love… I think you love the outdoors, right? I see your picture, skiing, and the outdoors stuff. We have many things about us, and we just intertwine our jobs so much because we've spent so much time and effort and sacrifice doing it. That's one thing that sometimes it's good to peel back those layers and soul search a little bit while you're going through something like this.

It can be deeply meaningful to you. Because you're not just a doctor, you're so many other things.

Kristi: And yet, it’s so easy to forget that. And, such fertile ground for a traumatic experience, when those things are intertwined. Particularly when we are in the culture that has that message of “do no harm.” So, for somebody who's listening, who really wants to learn more about you and the work that you do, and the work that you are in the middle of doing, how can people find you?

Laura: Yeah, you can just go to TheMedMalCoach.com. and find me there. But you can also, I'm Dr. Laura Fortner on social media, so you can find me there and message me. I have a heart to help, and whatever you need… The other thing is, I like to say, this needs to get out. I really believe, in the medical school residency training, really learning some of this stuff.

I think it's a travesty that we're not teaching it in that realm. Because as physicians, we witness things every single day that are not normal to the human eye. Meaning, that we're witnessing death, we're giving CPR, we're doing all these things that are traumatic, and trauma can be formed. I mean, especially with my clients, a lot of their stuff starts in med school or residency. Something happened, and it's not just a med mal case.

Kristi: Totally. So, people can find you there. For the coaches who are listening, who are physician coaches, the Institute for Physician Wellness is having a Physician Coaching Summit. You're doing a workshop there, so I'll just put it in the plug. If this whet somebody's appetite for learning more, about some of the really complex things about trauma, memory reconsolidation, trauma in the brain, they can check you out there.

Laura: Yes, I'll be teaching, actually, how to do this in actual applications with clients. Come on out and learn how to do this, so that you can reliably activate that part of the brain to rewrite it.

Kristi: That's amazing. I'm super excited about learning more about this. This is clearly deeply impactful for you, for your clients. And I really do just want to say the same thing, that I wish that this could be a standardized part of our education, in middle school, high school, medical school. It would be beautiful to have it integrated there.

Thank you so much for the work that you're doing. It's really important, and I really appreciate you coming on the podcast.

Laura: Thank you. It was an honor to be here, and I'm so excited that I could help, in any way. So, thanks.

Kristi: Awesome. Thanks so much, Laura.

If you enjoyed this conversation and you want to learn more, go to the show notes at HabitsOnPurpose.com/podcast and click on this episode. That's where you'll find the transcript and you can find all the contact information for Dr. Laura Fortner, as well as the upcoming workshop that she is running at the Physician Coaching Summit, in November of 2023.

If, as you listen to this episode, it made you think maybe now's the time to get extra support via coaching, my private one-on-one panel has some open spots. If you find yourself consuming lots of information, but perhaps not knowing how to actually apply it in real life, coaching can help you bridge that gap.

Coaching helps with accountability, with structure, and with deeper self-exploration in a really practical, tangible way. My particular coaching approach includes cognitive, somatic, Trauma-Informed, and Internal Family Systems-informed coaching approaches.

We meet one on one on Zoom, roughly every week or two. You get written support between calls, kind of like having a coach on speed dial. This ensures that you have support as you need it. So, to learn more, go to HabitsOnPurpose.com/private and I'll talk to you next week.

Thanks for listening to Habits On Purpose. If you want more information on Kristi Angevine or the resources from the podcast, visit HabitsOnPurpose.com. Tune in next week for another episode.

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