In today’s episode, Lead Coach Gabriella Dennery MD speaks with Dr. Andrée LeRoy, a physiatrist and expert in functional integrative and rehabilitation medicine, also a specialist in Lifestyle Medicine. Coming from a family of doctors, she speaks about how she fought the calling but eventually decided that an MD was what she needed to pursue her dreams of truly helping others on their journey of healing. In describing her extensive humanitarian work in Haiti while working as a physician at Harvard Medical School, she speaks about what she learned from her experience. She also speaks about surviving Covid-19 as a single mother of a young child, how it was a difficult trial but it ultimately was a gift. It allowed her to step back and look at her life. She realized she was in a work situation where she was lacking fulfillment. Tune in to hear how she changed her path and to get inspired by her wisdom!
You can find out more about Dr. Andrée LeRoy on her website DrLeRoy.com. You can also find her on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. She has served as faculty at Harvard Medical School, and done humanitarian work in Haiti. Her current practice is in west Los Angeles. She graduated from The University of Illinois at Chicago Medical School in 2006. She completed her residencies in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts in 2010 and the Durant Fellowship in Global Health and Refugee Medicine from Massachusetts General Hospital in 2011.
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Enjoy the full transcript below:
Andrée: The way we think, the way we move, the way we manage our stress, and what we put into our mouth really determines 80% of chronic disease outcome.
Gabriella: Hello, my name is Gabriella Dennery, MD, life coach at DocWorking, and welcome to this episode of the DocWorking Podcast. I am joined here today with my fabulous guest, Dr. Andrée LeRoy. Andrée LeRoy, we’re going to talk about so much today about your journey, your path in medicine, and your practice as an integrative medicine specialist, but you also bring a different twist to that. So, I’m looking forward to this conversation. Let’s start with your origin story. What made you decide to become a doctor and you chose a really unusual specialty?
Andrée: Yes, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate being on here. I’m just really excited, and it’s my intention to just share openly. I really fought going into medicine for some time. I finished my undergraduate after becoming premed, and I remember several conversations, because I come from a physician family with several physicians, “Don’t do it, this is not the way to go, try something else. Managed care is killing us,” and I did. I did just that. I spent some time working for Morgan Stanley in finance. What I found so surprising is whenever the market went down or up, that would determine everybody in the office’s mood. I just thought, we can’t take this situation so seriously. I did research in a laboratory, but being a people person, I just missed being around people, connecting with people. I was mainly just focus on my molecular biology research.
Then, I decided to try massage therapy, which allowed me the person-to-person interaction, but then people would ask me about things that were wrong with them, and I would just say, “Well, go see your doctor.” I realized out of a process of elimination, this was the path for me because it would allow me the depth and the vastness of experience of service, of science, of compassion, of healing. I thought about other things like, “Oh, maybe I’ll become a chiropractor or I’ll become a naturopath.” But I knew having come from an international background, that I wanted to be able to serve in other places, so I thought that the MD was the way to go.
Gabriella: International background and serve in other places, but I hear service from what you’re saying as being a big thing for you and why medicine and international endeavors?
Andrée: Yeah, I just remember stories. My father is from Haiti. My mother is from Jamaica. My father had tuberculosis at a time when there wasn’t really much treatment for tuberculosis. I recall him sharing how at that time people used to have to go to a place in Haiti called the sanatorium. They would just basically isolate them so that they would reduce spread, and then offer them nutrition. It was run by nuns. Then, there were these physicians who would come in from all parts of the world, and help people. That had a lot of meaning for him in his life and really impacted him in a very meaningful way. I also had an aunt who started a pretty large nongovernmental organization in Haiti. I always knew that I wanted to give back in some way.
I realized I wanted to do it a little differently than just mission work, in that sometimes mission work can really disrupt the infrastructure of a country that’s there. I wanted to do what I could to not just support the people, the patients, but also support the system, so that when I left, it’s not like the whole thing would be destabilized, starting all over again. It was something that was really important to me. Also, seeing how things are done in other ways in the world, and really reaffirming that service mentality is what really got me into doing international work.
Gabriella: I’m going to fast forward a little bit because you’ve been back and forth to Haiti multiple times as a physician, and we didn’t get to your choice of specialty. I’m just going to say it, physiatry. [laughs]
Gabriella: You were in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. Tell us a little more about that, about your work there.
Andrée: Yeah, so, at the time, I was working at Harvard Medical School, which has a huge connection to Haiti through Paul Farmer’s organization, Partners in Health. There was this earthquake and I thought, “Oh, my gosh, there has to be something I can do to serve. There has to be a way to really support these people.” At the time, I was thinking, “Oh, they need surgeries.” But then, I thought even further, “But who’s going to help them after the surgeries are over.” So, I talked to my chairman, and interestingly, he was planning to go to Haiti, but had a lot on his plate, and so, he sent me to really scope out the situation, and from there is when I realized I needed to commit to something more.
There’s very little infrastructure for people with disabilities. Again, my father had a disability of anoxic brain injury after having congestive heart failure exacerbation, prolonged course in the ICU, and he didn’t get enough oxygen to the brain. From there, I just knew, “Wow, there’s something more to this. There’s something more to looking at things more holistically, and given all on one day, hundreds of thousands of people not only died, hundreds and thousands of people acquire disabilities all on one day, and there was no infrastructure. Here I am, a Haitian American, who has some connection to the culture has the ability to serve in this capacity.” So, it just felt like I was called to go there and serve in that way.
Gabriella: You’re coming into a country that, as you said, the infrastructure, whatever little infrastructure there was completely destroyed as a result of the earthquake. You’re coming into the situation to help people with disability, because yes, there’s the immediate aftermath, and then there’s the time right after. What happens to amputees? What happens to their ability to function and moving forward? So, how did you see your service? How were you able to serve in that capacity as a physiatrist coming from Harvard?
Andrée: I’ve always in medicine been a trailblazer of an atypical path. I told my chairman, “Listen, we need working global health. Disability is not just here in the United States. There are lessons we can actually share between our experience here in the United States, and Haiti, and vice versa.” There is a whole recovery phase that occurs, and I learned so much from being there, that those skills I then brought back to Harvard with me. One of the things that we started with, because there was no infrastructure, was a community-based foundation. At the time, the roads weren’t completely paved. You had to reach people. So, we developed a team rather quickly of community health workers, taught them about exercises, taught them the basics, and they would be the eyes and ears, and go out into the communities, and we would do outreach there, gather cases, figure out what their issues were, what are your problems, what are the biggest challenges that you’re facing, and then work on solutions from the bottom up instead of the top down.
It really taught me so many skills that I would never have as a physician had I not had this experience. I spent six years of traveling back and forth every other month. So, I do a month on service in Boston, and then I’d go to Haiti for a month, and then I do another month in Boston, and I job-shared with another physician, who had a global health project in Eritrea and Ethiopia, and his wife lived in Italy. We shared the same position and we made it work. It was something incredible. Sometimes, if you’re allowed in academia a little bit more freedom to really work a little outside of the box, this was actually a lot outside of the box, but it ended up being a win-win-win for everyone involved. Because we got to share a level of expertise, we got to learn a level of expertise that we wouldn’t have had, had we not been partnering with the public health system, and then it was these shared ideas that created something even better than what we could have done before both in Haiti and in the United States.
Gabriella: I can spend the next two hours talking to you about this.
Gabriella: Because this is like, “Wow, this is amazing.” I love what you said about that it’s not just North America taking information and resources to Haiti, but it’s what we can learn from the experience in Haiti and what the community teaches us about our function as physicians, as service providers. We’re not just there to teach, we’re there to learn. I think that is an interesting and valuable point right there.
I’m going to fast forward again, because then, how do you tie this into what you’re currently doing? Because at this point, you started in physiatry, but it took you to community work, to international work, which is what you said your intention was before going to med school, that you wanted the ability to travel and to serve in different parts of the world, and to learn from different parts of the world. Now, you are establishing or have established and integrative medicine practice, still work in physiatrist. How do all these pieces at this point in your life, Andrée, combine do you think?
Andrée: Oh, it’s all about integration. I’ve always been interested which is how I ended up in psychiatry and looking at medicine from a much more holistic perspective. For me, the most holistic of the allopathic fields was physiatry, because we take an interdisciplinary approach. Yes, the physiatrist leads the team. I get to collaborate with all different specialties, and we work together towards restoring function. To me, it was the first model that I saw– Like family medicine, it has a similar biopsychosocial model, where we weren’t as focused on the diagnosis, and, “Oh, my gosh, he has an anoxic brain injury. That’s it.” No, life continues after that. Life continues for people who’ve survived cancer. How do you thrive after cancer? You don’t succumb to it. You survive, and then you thrive. So, how do we look at this from a much more global perspective? This is how I got involved in looking at how lifestyle, how the way we think, the way we move, the way we manage our stress, and what we put into our mouth really determines 80% of chronic disease outcome.
So, how can I work with people similar to what you do as a coach, but also keeping my doctors head on to support people in their journey of changing their habits of looking at things more holistically, of growing in their consciousness, in their mindfulness, it was all a part of the experience. I think one thing I can say about the Haitian people, they are a very spiritual people. Very grounded in whatever the belief is, whether it’s Catholicism, Christianity, other religions, whether it’s the traditional African religions that they brought over, they are very much steeped in consciousness and understanding there’s a power greater than themselves at work. So, it felt very true to myself, although, it may not initially seem as aligned with traditional medicine to bring this element because it’s such an important piece in most people’s lives. As far as how they manage or deal with situations, they often look to what is the silver lining.
In physiatry, we deal with lots and lots of devastating injuries. I noticed there are some people that can take the experience, use it for their good, and then move forward. Then, there are other people we noticed that really don’t do as well with it. They just flounder for long periods of time, which is also understandable, but I really wanted to understand what sets those two apart. For me, it came down to consciousness, and how someone develops, how someone grows, how they take experiences that happened to them as being for them. So, what I decided was the best way I could be of service and of help to my patients and to myself was to look at things much more holistically, and so I decided to get a degree in spiritual psychology.
Gabriella: I’m familiar with what you’re talking about. But for our audience, I want to make sure that it’s clear to them, because we’re looking at spiritual psychology, but there’s one thing that you and I talked about before this podcast, that it’s very difficult to have progress in a client if you’re not looking at yourself. It’s not just people who are looking within and dig into that mindfulness, dig into a spiritual belief, dig into a connection to something that is bigger than themselves, and you notice the difference between those who do and those who may or may not, or who get lost in the story as opposed to reaching for that silver lining. I’m not saying it’s bad or worse, either one, because we all go through these stages whenever dealing with chronic illness. Especially with an injury, I could imagine the kind of injuries that you’ve had to deal with as a physician, as a physiatrist specifically. But the notion that in order for my patient or my client to get better, if there’s a stuck point, I’ve got to be willing to look at me. So, I’m wondering, is that what you mean by spiritual psychology?
Andrée: Yeah, spiritual psychology is the psychology of the psyche. Our psyche is really our truth. It’s the beliefs that we carry that we utilize to help us manage life and the world. If we’ve ever been brought up or taken on limiting beliefs, then we will be limited in our solutions. So, one of the things I do feel is really, really important as a physician, stress management is an experiential course. We learn firsthand how to deal with stress, but we’re never given the tools of how to really deal with it from a more conscious level. It became really important to me to get this training, not saying that everybody has to go and do that. Why, because I can only be as helpful to my patients as the level of growth that I have incurred within myself.
You see all the time, in physicians who’ve never dealt with death on a personal level and then go through that experience of the death of a loved one, they have a different level of compassion, of experience, of support to offer, just like a pediatrician who’s never had kids versus once they’ve had them, their counseling will be different. We’ve studied this. Numerous studies have been done that physicians counsel on what they do. So, in order for me to be as supportive to a vast array of patients, I have to be willing myself to adapt habits, to adapt ways of being, to be in a growth mindset, and to continue to grow not only in knowledge, but also grow in who I am as a person, the kind of legacy I want to leave on the planet, the kind of depth of service I want to have for others, and that can only occur if I am doing the work myself. In doing the work myself, I can then facilitate a container, or an energy, or a space for healing to occur. I am not necessarily the healer in that sense. I am a facilitator of someone else’s healing, the same way metoprolol or Lasix is the facilitator of healing for somebody who’s going through an exacerbation of their congestive heart failure.
Gabriella: Stay tuned for more from today’s guests after this important message from BoardVitals.
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Gabriella: What would be, let’s say, a patient example, if you can share?
Gabriella: What do you mean about bringing all these pieces together, not just the technical stuff, the medical stuff, the prescriptions, etc., etc., but at the same time, that more, I’ll say the word, more spiritual connections and mindfulness and consciousness?
Andrée: Yeah, because it doesn’t have to be a taboo term. I think people hear that word and they get nervous and scared. Especially people in medicine, they don’t want to offend anybody. But we’re not talking about religion, we’re talking about spirituality, which is much broader. It can be just believing in something greater than yourself, believing in the greater good of humanity. For some people, it is God, for some people, it’s the universe, for some people. It’s their collective community, and the sum of that being greater than what’s done in solo.
I’ll give you an example. I had this week actually. A young woman was pregnant and got COVID at her baby shower unfortunately. She was seven months pregnant at the time, was in the ICU, had a C-section. They delivered the baby, was on ECMO for four months. Then following, they tried and couldn’t get her off until she received a lung transplant. She had bilateral lung transplants. Young person in her 30s, and I just remember meeting her for the first time, like, “Wow, this woman is a real survivor.” She talked to me about the fact that she didn’t even recall having had a baby, but was told that she had one. She had some retrograde amnesia from some anoxia, which is lack of oxygen to the brain. We were just talking and she’s like, “I can’t do anything. I can’t move my arms, I can’t move my legs.” I said, “Yes, that is very true. A week ago, you and I couldn’t even have this conversation. I know it’s hard, because you’re so used to what you could do before. Can we for a moment of time take an attitude of gratitude?” That was her homework for me, I give people homework to do when they’re at the rehab hospital is to focus on three things that she noticed that she was able to do that she couldn’t do the week before. She’s like, “Oh, I took a couple sips of water. Oh, I sat at the edge of the bed for the first time.”
It took her just out of this spiral of negativity into this possibility. I said, “If that’s possible for you in a week, you have eight weeks here. Imagine what can happen.” Fast forward to two weeks later, she’s holding her baby for the first time, when before she had compartment syndrome, she can’t move her arms, she is holding her baby for the first time. It was just incredible to witness the evolution, and to now, we have these very in-depth conversations, where she shares very openly about how challenging the situation is, but how grateful she is to be alive, to be able to witness, to be a participant, and how it’s given her this attitude of gratitude coupled with her waking up to all these different possibilities has taken her into such a deep space of appreciation for herself, for her family that she would have never had. It’s not to take away the fact that this was really tragic that she had to go through this experience, but she is here present, able to raise her child.
Gabriella: Isn’t that the wonder about these kinds of situations? Oftentimes, it’s not a solution, it really is just reframing what a person thinks about a situation. It’s the same circumstance, but looking at it from a slightly different angle. Sometimes, it’s really just little really, really, really slight, and that slight difference makes such a massive impact. I was talking to a friend of mine, who also went through a pretty significant incident in her life a few years back. She was in a coma for several weeks, and finally got out of the coma. She still has those moments where it’s like, “I don’t know what happened. Why am I here? Why am I here like this?” I said, “Well, instead of talking about what happened before, why don’t we call it your transformation? That you went through a transformative moment?”
Gabriella: To be able to say just that change in vocabulary made a big difference. Simply because, okay, my transformation. I’m not the same person that was yesterday. I’m a different person today, and that’s okay too. [laughs] So, I appreciate what you just said, because I can relate to that 100%. What is your transformation? That’s a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. But you had a massive transformation yourself, my friend. The fact that you could not only relate to this young woman and her double lung transplant, but you’ve also shared in another podcast that I saw you on about your experience with COVID and that it hit home very– [crosstalk]
Andrée: Oh, yes. Very, very, very much so.
Andrée: I was a long-hauler before we knew what a long-hauler was. I got COVID in early March of 2020. I do believe I got it during the whole mask shortage frenzy. I was covering for another doc at a local hospital but who knows? We’ll never really know. But yes, I am a solo mom of a beautiful daughter, and had not only the experience of trying to nurse myself to help, but dealing with her, now, I think about like grace must have come in. I opted not to go to the hospital, even though my saturations, my oxygen level was at the level where you’re supposed to go in, because I had no one or what was I going to do with her? I actually called and asked like, “What do you do with kids?” They said, “Oh, well, Child Protective Services is not taking people at the moment. So, we would admit her to the pediatric floor and she would be there in quarantine herself.” In hearing that, I just was like, “Hell or come high water, I have a determination. I asked my community to really hold for me, to pray for me, to send me positive vibes, to send me light.” I did everything I could. I chanted, I prayed, I took herbs. I took hydroxychloroquine, because that’s all we knew about back then and thought it was the greatest thing ever. I took amantadine, which is another med that’s known to be antiviral that we use a lot for people with brain injuries. I did everything I possibly could, and I did recover at home, but it took me five months before I felt like I was myself again. Still, I don’t have 100%– I have some of my smell back, I do tire a lot easier, I do feel stiffer. I’m lucky that the brain fog has lifted. But it was definitely one of these experiences, but what I realized about the experiences that I was not living fully true to myself in true alignment.
What do I mean by that? What does she mean by that? Well, here it is. I was working in a situation so to speak to pay the bills. But it was not necessarily where I felt called to be, but I didn’t have the courage at the time to step out and do something that I’ve always wanted to do. So, the COVID experience for me or COVID phenomenon, as some people are now calling it because it wasn’t just tragedy, it was also such a gift, that gave me some time and space to really cultivate and grow my micro practice, which I get to do these things. I get to sit knee to knee and coach people, and talk about lifestyle changes, and talk about integrative ways of doing things, and also bring in that element of consciousness into the conversation. I’ve noticed the tremendous impact that it’s had on people. So, although it was something that was very difficult, not to mention at the time, I was also trying to care for a child who then went on to have a post-COVID complication three months later, it was just one of these things where I had to dig deep into my own beliefs, my own strength, my own faith in order to see it through.
Gabriella: What impact you think these experiences have? Because the beauty about now is that we get to look at everything [laughs] since birth, how it combines in ways that perhaps was totally unexpected. What surprised you about what you know now and how you are now as a physician, as a mom, as a human being really? I’m not going to compartmentalize anymore. Is there anything that surprises you about any of this?
Andrée: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I had to develop a level of trust. I had to trust the universe, I had to trust myself, I had to trust that everything that was happening to me was also happening for me. It really allowed my daughter and I to bond in a way that we would have never been able to. It allowed me to slow down and really look at what is it that I want to intend for myself as opposed to just living in this automatic mode of going, going, going. It also helped me reflect upon medicine as a whole and looking how we are hungry for a paradigm shift. I want to be a part of that paradigm shift. We are hungry for deeper levels of care, more interaction, growth on all levels, not just in the financial growth, but also in so many other aspects of our lives. I think the biggest thing that COVID taught us is we are looking for a sense of fulfillment on all levels.
My encouragement to other physicians, my encouragement to other people who are listening is to really just get in touch with what helps you and supports you in feeling fulfilled. Sometimes, it takes a slowing down and a listening inside to really see that. Nothing thrills me more than teaching other people about this work, or sitting knee to knee and seeing the light bulb go off. It’s like that is where my sense of fulfillment lies. Realizing that, how can I cultivate more of that in my life as opposed to rushing, rushing, rushing, seeing each person, seeing each person’s doing, the note getting it done, submitting to the biller da, da, da, da, da. How do I slow down but also earn a living?
These are the questions that I think are accumulating in the minds of many of us physicians, how? I love what some people are doing with real estate investing, and I love what some people are doing with this whole movement of financial independence for physicians, but I also want us to look within to what brought me here, what called me to this? Because it is a lot of work. Can I get in touch with the moments that bring me the most richness in my experience? Not just the accomplishment of. Accomplishment and fulfillment, two totally different things. Yes, we’re a very accomplished group of people. But in many ways, the pandemic highlighted how deeply unfulfilled we are currently feeling in our profession and it’s time for a shift.
Gabriella: What do you envision? [laughs] You’ve got my brain cells going, girl.
Andrée: I would love to see this level of growth, just like we grow in knowledge of science, that even in our training, I feel a lot of us had to suppress our emotions, suppress our wants, our needs, our desires. I misinterpreted the Hippocratic Oath. I thought it meant I had to deny myself in service to my patients. I went back to read it again and laughed, because he talks about needing to take care of ourselves in service to the people that we’re serving. How do we bring that art back to medicine? How do we bring this consciousness into the conversation and into the training of physicians, as healers, as those who facilitate not only the science and the treatment, but the healing that’s so desperately needed? I am looking forward to seeing what comes forward. I hear a lot of people, I need to ditch, I need to bail, but I’m actually looking forward to seeing how, as you used the word, this transforms. Sometimes, we have to transform from a place of pain and struggle. How can we use the pain that we’ve all witnessed, experienced as energy towards the transformation of our field?
Gabriella: Wow. Again, I could spend another day talking to you about this, but we are going to wrap it up. What is next for you, Andrée?
Andrée: A lot of beautiful things are happening. I am continuing on in this conversation. One, being a wellness retreat for professional women who would like to really look into this more deeply and explore more deeply how they can heal and transform more workshops, because I love to teach, and learn, and grow as a group. Continuing on in my medical practice and seeing how that evolves, and also coaching other physicians who are interested in learning how can I do things outside of the box that allow me to feel more fulfilled and still earn abundantly. I’m just really excited. I’m really grateful to you, girl, for allowing me to share, and thank you for doing what you do. Thank you for being of service in this way.
Gabriella: I appreciate that. Thank you for being so open in your sharing and I think this has been a brilliant conversation. Thank you so much.
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Amanda: Hello, and thank you for listening. This is Amanda Taran. I’m the producer of the DocWorking Podcast. If you enjoyed our podcast, please like and subscribe. We would also love it if you check out our website, which is docworking.com. You can also find us on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and on Instagram. On Instagram, we are @docworking1 and that is with the number one. When you check us out on social, please let us know what you would like to hear on the podcast. Your feedback really means a lot to us. If you’re a physician with a story you’d like to tell, please reach out to me at [email protected] to apply to be on the podcast. Thank you, again, and we look forward to talking with you on the next episode of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.