Karen Lawson, MD

The patient-doctor relationship shouldn’t stop at the door

Dr. Karen Lawson believes that the patient-doctor relationship shouldn’t stop as soon as you leave the door. She finds that coaching the patient is the best way to build on that bond.

The Interview

As an individual consumer that has a health issue, it doesn’t matter in many ways if you go to your internist or your family practice doc or chiropractor. You’re going to an expert person who is either educating you to do something or telling you to do something or doing something to you, and that’s their role. What happens is then people leave the provider and they go stand in the parking lot and will go, “Well that was great advice or guidance. And how do I do it in my own life?” Whether it’s how do I take this pill or how do I change my diet or how do I do this meditation practice.

The implementation is hard, behavioral change is hard, developing new habits is hard. It became very clear we needed some kind of practitioner that met the person in the parking lot and said, “Okay I’m right here, I’m by your side, I’m by your shoulder. What steps do you want to take? What new behaviors do you want? What new beliefs do you want to cultivate?” And we called that person a health coach. And because we were working with an integrative team of practitioners, it was an integrative health coach. So it wasn’t just a health coach working with a conventional kind of reductionist medical team.

So I brought together an interdisciplinary team that had a lot of coaching experience and developed a curriculum and launched a training program that’s now in its 10th year. And it was the first training program of its kind at a major university. That really has moved the terrain in ways that I never expected, and I’m not done with it yet, it’s still working me, so ask me in 10 years. But integrative health coaching made me one aspect of the legacy I’d like to leave behind.

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