Considering Career Change? Focus on "Disruptive Skills"

September 22, 2010
Philippa Kennealy MD MPH CPCC PCC

What does it take to go from a doctor in a full-time medical practice to a physician in a non-clinical role? Focusing on your "disruptive skills," or distinctive innate talents, can help guide your career choice and ease the transition.

As the SEAK Non-Clinical Careers Conference approaches this weekend, I've been mulling over just what it takes to go from a doctor in full-time medical practice to a non-clinical physician role in which you are deploying skills that are either new or being tweaked to provide value in fresh new workplaces.

I am so often told, "I could never do anything else -- all I know is medicine." And then comes the inevitable comment, "Maybe I should go to business school and get my MBA."

A timely post on one of the Harvard Business Review blogs draws attention to a new way of thinking about one's transferable skills as a physician in career transition. The post calls them "disruptive skills":

"Translating this to our careers, when we proffer to the marketplace a disruptive skill set, focusing on our distinctive innate talents rather than 'me-too' skills, we are more likely to achieve success and increase what we earn. For example, consider the outcomes for two presidential candidates: on the one hand, Mitt Romney, who highlighted his political views rather than his business acumen; on the other, Bill Clinton, who understood that, as smart as the former Rhodes scholar is, his real skill was interpersonal intelligence."

What might a physician's disruptive skill set look like?

• Exquisite listening skills and diagnostic talents may equal phenomenal "connect the dot" problem-solving in a challenging team leadership role.

• Remarkable surgical and tissue-handling skills may translate to great artistic ability on the canvas or as a sculptor.

• An uncanny ability to remember the details of the Krebs Cycle and other physiologic marvels might become a whizz bang way to work financial numbers.

• Fiercely negotiating the tenant improvements for your last office space might show up as real-estate genius.

The sentence in the blog post that jumped out at me as most on-the-mark is this one: “Yet we often overlook our best skills -- our innate talents -- simply because we perform them without even thinking.”

So very true!

Take a hard, creative, right-brained look at what you're good at doing, and what you love to do -- you may be in for a delightful surprise at what the marketplace will value and pay you to do.

What are your disruptive skills?