Women in Philanthropy Meeting Focuses on Getting “Unstuck” and Finding New Opportunities
“My first experience of feeling ‘stuck’ was when I started a family,” says Dr. Sherlonda Adkins, DMSc, PA-C, MSPAS, MPA. Later, when she started her PA education as a parent of three, she began using strategies to help push past that feeling. “As a PA, I knew what was important to me and I knew what I wanted my life to look like – one I didn’t have to escape.”
Now, as a motivational speaker and success coach, Adkins helps PAs and others get “unstuck” in their goals, careers, relationships, and lives. At the third quarter meeting of PA Foundation’s Women in Philanthropy network, she presented strategies for getting unstuck and creating a life you don’t feel you have to escape. She shared her story, talked about the symptoms of feeling stuck and/or burned out, and offered tactics and exercises for PAs to get unstuck, both personally and professionally.
How Adkins Became Unstuck
When Adkins first began to experience the feeling of being stuck, she was a new parent working at a Fortune 500 company who didn’t want to put her baby in daycare. She became a stay-at-home mom, but after a year, that same stuck feeling returned. She went back to work, first part-time and then full-time at a technical college, but still struggled to achieve balance between work and family.
So in 2012, when Adkins started her PA education at the Medical University of South Carolina, she wrote down personal goals that would help her achieve balance: to work part-time hours with full-time pay and no nights and weekends, and to be close to home so she could get back to her family if needed.
“[These goals] were near and dear to me because they represented what I valued, which was family, freedom, and the ability to innovate,” explains Adkins, who is the owner and founder of PsychMYway, South Carolina’s first PA-owned outpatient tele-psychiatry practice. She is also an avid traveler who has visited 22 countries and counting.
When she graduated from PA school, Adkins worked two part-time jobs as an independent contractor, one in internal medicine and the other in psychiatry. She didn’t work nights or weekends, and both positions were located less than 10 minutes from her home.
Other PAs started asking Adkins how she achieved these goals, which, she admits, seemed lofty even to her at first. “[I started telling] people, ‘Write your dreams down and remember who you are,’” reflects Adkins. “I got started [as a speaker and a coach by] sharing my own story and encouraging people to move beyond that place of feeling stuck and feeling burned out.”
Symptoms of Feeling Stuck and/or Burned Out
About 30 percent of PAs experience one or more symptoms of burnout, according to NCCPA’s 2021 Statistical Profile of Certified PAs. But Adkins points out that this number could actually be higher because those who feel burned out aren’t likely to fill out a survey.
PAs can feel either “burned out” or “stuck” – or they can have both of these feelings at the same time. Symptoms of burnout include doing the bare minimum at work; being cynical with colleagues; lack of joy; difficulty connecting, both with patients and at home; a lack of attention or focus; and weight and sleep changes.
Those who feel stuck, particularly at work, might feel restricted due to their age or a perceived lack of opportunities for PAs beyond patient care; health conditions or inadequate benefits; state laws or non-adherent patients; student loans; or management.
Adkins encourages those who experience these feelings to write down their answers to three questions. Visualizing the last question is also helpful.
- Do you feel stuck or have you ever felt stuck?
- Why do you think you are stuck?
- What would your life look like if you were unstuck?
She also shares three mistakes people make when they have these feelings: not counting the cost of remaining stuck or burned out; being hard on themselves because they feel indecisive or ungrateful about having these feelings; and not considering what would happen if they made a change to get unstuck and it did work out.
“What I don’t ever want to see any of my colleagues do is give up on medicine [because of burnout or feeling stuck] without turning over every stone possible, because there’s so many different ways for us to do this PA thing,” she affirms.
Strategies for Getting Unstuck Mentally
“Here’s the thing,” says Adkins. “Being stuck is not always bad. Sometimes [it’s] your soul’s way of telling you that you’re out of alignment.”
To get unstuck mentally, Adkins encourages PAs to think about who they are beyond the various roles they play at work and home. “When you find out who you are, you can align what you do on a daily basis and things start to open up and change for you,” she advises. She recommends taking the personality test at www.16personalities.com to gain personal insight.
PAs can also protect their peace and their energy by striving to avoid negativity and radiate positivity. To see the balance of positivity and negativity within their lives, they can try an exercise using two colors of beans and a jar, which Adkins introduced when leading a marriage group with her husband. A bean of one color, representing positive action, is placed in a jar every time something positive or encouraging is heard, and a bean of the other color, representing negative action, goes in the jar after hearing something negative. At the end of a day or a week, PAs can see how much positivity or negativity they were exposed to within that time frame.
Adkins also suggests writing down goals, as she did when she was a PA student. “If you have opportunities presented to you, your brain has a way of accessing information about those opportunities that is in alignment with the goals you have written down,” she explains. PAs can start by writing down what their lives would look like if they got unstuck and then create their goals from there.
Strategies for Getting Unstuck in Your Career
PAs may be surprised to hear Adkins’s first tip for getting unstuck in their careers: Consider becoming unemployed. But what Adkins means is they can shift to work as independent contractors. There are several organizations that post locum or temporary assignments around the country. PAs can also reach out to providers in their networks to see if they have short-term assignments, such as filling in for someone who is on maternity leave. “This is a good way to get unstuck because it gives you lots of options,” she says.
Adkins also suggests thinking about switching specialties or, for those with an entrepreneurial spirit, becoming a practice owner. Both of these changes can challenge the brain in new ways, helping people become unstuck.
Looking for work beyond patient care can also help. Other roles might include preceptor, teacher, or adjunct professor, medical science liaison, or clinical researcher. PAs could also consider app development or medical writing.
Adkins has also explored social and community work. In 2020, during the wave of racial injustices and civil unrest in the U.S., she attended a forum held by NCCPA for PAs of color to come together and talk about ways to support each other. Adkins found the forum helpful and began to wonder if the same supportive community existed within her home state of South Carolina. When she found out it didn’t, she partnered with several other PAs to found the Black PAs of South Carolina, a group that creates a safe space for Black PAs to connect with and support one another.
“If you have a cause, sometimes it’s up to you to make changes,” she says. “That can be a very fulfilling way to get unstuck.”
Learn more about Dr. Sherlonda Adkins’s work as a motivational speaker and a success coach at www.drsherlondaadkins.com.