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A Physician’s Perspective on Career Change

Daniel McMahon, MD shares mindset tips from his own experience, for physicians who are thinking about a life and career outside of clinical medicine.

Are you considering a career change away from clinical medicine? I am…. There, I said it.

I can understand the reticence to be open and honest about this feeling and to discuss this topic with others in your peer group.

I am personally experiencing this professional fork in the road firsthand.

It may be intimidating to admit, it may seem selfish, and some may say this is frank lunacy.

Why would you walk away from something you have devoted so much time and effort toward?

We all have our reasons, and this is perfectly within our realm of autonomous decision making.

Why would it not be?

 

There are many reasons physicians may decide to alter the trajectory of their careers away from clinical medicine.

We do not need to deeply delve into this subject for the sake of brevity, as we all clearly know the difficulties and stressors that accompany clinical practice.

For some it is simply to improve work-life balance, spend more time with family, or begin living life a little more readily and rekindle a connection with activities that give you joy outside of your clinical career.

Maybe you want to engineer your own life and your own aspirations rather than letting clinical medicine run your life for you.

Some are looking for something that is novel, refreshing, and engaging, that will provide a renewed sense of personal and career satisfaction.

Other professions change jobs all the time to address these variables, so why can’t physicians?

 

Maybe you are not one of those people who have only wanted to be a physician since they can remember.

Maybe medical school seemed like the best avenue for your budding career at the time.

You stuck it out through residency and maybe even a challenging fellowship but are now looking for a significant change in course. No harm, no foul.

This is a testament to your perseverance that will translate into success in any career you’d like.

Take what you have learned and assimilated in clinical medicine and apply that to something else.

Go and do great things with that knowledge and skillset.

Continue to serve patients, people, and your community on whatever scale and in whatever capacity you’d like.

Who is saying you can’t? The lion’s share of this second guessing is most likely emanating from your inner voice alone.

 

Take what you have learned and assimilated in clinical medicine and apply that to something else. Go and do great things with that knowledge and skillset. Click To Tweet

 

This professional and career crossroads will be different for everyone, but you must listen to that inner voice and go with your gut feeling.

There are plenty of us out there.

Don’t fight it, or else you will make yourself and everyone else around you miserable.

I’ve been there. It may seem like a seismic shift upon first consideration and that’s alright.

It will be liberating to be transparent about this and make the deliberate decision to move forward with a change.

If your co-workers or boss can’t wrap their heads around it, then maybe you really shouldn’t be in that position or part of that team to begin with.

Stop waiting. There is no better time than now.

It will always be difficult, so why carry that baggage around that is incessantly weighting you down.

 

If your co-workers or boss can’t wrap their heads around it, then maybe you really shouldn’t be in that position or part of that team to begin with. Click To Tweet

 

Alright. You have committed to the decision. Now what?

Go search for the greener pasture?

Not so fast. The grass may not always be greener on the other side and that’s perfectly reasonable.

Let’s be realistic and set appropriate expectations here.

This is real life, and real life isn’t all roses and lush meadows.

I think this is a common fallacy that by default we all tend to be lured into when considering a major life or career change.

 

In broad terms, don’t look for the greener pasture, look for the right pasture.

This may sound overly simplified, and it is.

There will be give and take.

There will be pros and cons.

 

This is real life, and real life isn’t all roses and lush meadows.

 

Weigh them accordingly and select the best path forward for you and your family rather than what someone else thinks you should do.

Your priorities will change over time and that’s alright.

That’s why you have found yourself here in the first place.

The only constant is change, so embrace it. Don’t fight it. It won’t be perfect. Nothing ever is.

If this is a change you truly want, then it will be the right choice.

 

In broad terms, don’t look for the greener pasture, look for the right pasture. Click To Tweet

 

Pick the right pasture for you and your family at this intersection in your career.

The right pasture at the right time and in the right place to further your personal and professional development.

The pasture that has the right people and the right tribe.

Those that will lift you up and make you better.

Those that are like minded but are also willing to let you flex your own unique personality traits and experiences.

 

There is no fixed path for us to follow out of the clinical realm and maybe you don’t want to give up clinical medicine all together.

Maybe you want to remain a part time clinician, slowly phase out of clinical practice, or remain a full-time practitioner while doing something on the side that is new and different and will provide some degree of diversity to your clinical work.

This obviously is not for all physicians, but if you are reading this, you are probably in an arc somewhere along this spectrum of thought.

There are a vast number of other career options out there for physicians. More so than I could have ever imagined, and it can be overwhelming.

 

There is no fixed path for us to follow out of the clinical realm and maybe you don’t want to give up clinical medicine all together. Click To Tweet

 

You have a robust set of transferable skills that will translate well into a myriad of career paths, medically related or not. Utilize them to your advantage.

You will likely leverage your clinical expertise into your new career path ahead, but no one is saying you must. Go and do whatever you want. Be whoever you want to be.

No one is stopping you.

 

Overall, be patient. If serendipity is on your side, this transformation may occur quickly.

Realistically, it is going to take some time to set the stage.

I can attest to this, and I find myself somewhere in the middle of this process.

Find the right footing before you begin scaling the rock.

Rushing headfirst into the seemingly first cool stream that comes along when you are scorched and burned out is certainly tempting but could be foolish.

 

Find the right footing before you begin scaling the rock. Rushing headfirst into the seemingly first cool stream that comes along when you are scorched and burned out is certainly tempting but could be foolish. Click To Tweet

 

As you approach this transition, accumulate small tactical gains in the short-term to realize larger strategic victories in the long-term.

This all begins with educating yourself on the litany of career options that are out there for physicians and building a network once you have made the deliberate decision to disengage with clinical medicine either partially or fully.

Everyone’s journey will be distinct and that is the exciting part.

You can engineer your own professional future.

You absolutely can.

I’m not sure precisely where I’m heading right now, but I have a pretty good idea after many months of research, networking, and self-assessment.

In the meantime, I continue to have a full clinical practice with some very interesting consulting work while off duty to get a feel for what things are like on the other side of direct clinical work.

I’m walking the path and keeping my eyes open for the right pasture to breach the horizon.

 

You can engineer your own professional future. You absolutely can. Click To Tweet

 

There is a vast array of pastures out there. Find the right one for you, your family, and your unique aspirations.

As the Stoic philosopher and emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius, has been quoted, “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” Take that deep introspective dive. If clinical medicine truly is not the place you belong full time professionally, find the right pasture to graze upon so you can start living again. Forge your path ahead. The clock is ticking. Don’t delay taking the first steps and paving your own unique and exciting path forward. Get to it!

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