MD Career Change: Are You a Candidate?

March 28, 2008

How do physicians change careers? One helpful tool is a Career Change Ability Scale, which identifies the best career practicesâ€"hallmark career behaviors and career attitudesâ€"of physicians who have made career transitions to non-clinical occupations.

“You have to deal with the fact that your life is your life.”—Alex Hailey

How do physicians change careers? One helpful tool is a Career Change Ability Scale, which identifies the best career practices—hallmark career behaviors and career attitudes—of physicians who have made career transitions to non-clinical occupations.

We call these individuals “career change champions” and their ‘best practices’ provide important information and data on how to change, and helped us create our Career Change Ability Scale.

Working as a hospital administrator for an insurance company or pharmaceutical firm are somewhat typical non-clinical careers. But medical real estate, Wall Street, venture capital, and new-company start-ups are some of the less typical career destinations for physicians.

Three Paths

Typically, physicians (like other highly-credentialed professionals) generally pursue career paths in three pattern-categories:

• About 58% of physicians follow straight-ahead career paths. These are physicians who start as a surgeon or psychiatrist or internist and remain as a surgeon or psychiatrist or internist. Some of our clients come from this population.

• About 29% of physicians follow a broad career pattern. These are physicians who start as an internist, and transition to a hospital administrator; or start as an endocrinologist, transition to pharmaceutical medical liaison; or start in community medicine and transition to academic research. Many of our clients come from this group.

• About 13% follow a variant career pattern. These are physicians who start a traditional medical career and end as a politician like Bill Frist; or start as a pediatrician and transition to stand-up comedy; or start as an eye surgeon, transition to law, and then to venture capital. Most of our clients come from this group.

These three general pattern-categories emerged from a research study that concluded “career self-realization [is] not a fully conscious [process]” but has to be “learned from alternatives”—that is to say by trial and error.

So one purpose of the Career Change Ability Scale is to help physicians who might contemplate changing careers learn how easy or difficult it is (in advance of any change), what’s needed to make a change, and if they’ll be able to navigate the change. And, of course, it would be highly advantageous to know sooner, rather than later, which pattern-category we belong to. Most of us don’t want unwelcome surprises.

Ability & PersonalityThe problem for most of us is that we don’t know which of these categories we belong to until later in life, looking backwards, when it may be too late to change or after we’ve tried one job or career and become dissatisfied or burned-out at that one. Or it can come after we’ve tried many different jobs or careers and still not yet found the right fit.

The same study also concluded that not only was ability necessary for career success and career well-being and career achievement: personality was a major factor. Substantive professional or technical-content skills (of the sort learned in medical school or as interns) do not alone determine achievement later in life. Many other career behaviors and career beliefs found in the Career Change Ability Scale can be imitated, developed, improved and even incorporated into new behaviors.

Changing careers may be advantageous but adventurous—since many of us don’t get it right the first time. Trial and error seems to be the rule. Of course there are exceptions such as people who know from a very early age what they want to be when they grow up. (Non-medical but well-known examples: Mozart, Steven Spielberg, Albert Einstein followed “straight-ahead career paths” over an entire lifetime.)

However, it can be daunting to contemplate shifting directions, moving outside of your comfort zone, and into the unknown. How do you decide? Is it practical? How easy or difficult would it be? What options are available? These questions are useful to consider before moving ahead.

Are You Ready?

Here are some questions (adapted from Richard Fein) that you should ask yourself to find out if you are ready to change careers:

1) Are you thinking positive new directions, not wanting to flee a bad career/job?

2) Could you come back to your old career/job if you had to?

3) Have you researched new career options?

4) If a new career doesn’t work out, would it have been worth it to explore?

5) Do people who know you well agree with your idea of changing careers?

6) Would you accept a low salary to try out a new career?

7) Are you ready to prove yourself to a new employer?

8) Are you ready to work with people younger than you?

9) Are you prepared for the reality that a new career may not work out?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Changing Career Quiz

The Career Change Ability Scale shows you the obstacles you face, and have to overcome, if you desire to move into a new job or career. The 13 statements below are a short version adapted from the complete 47-item Scale.

1) I intuitively develop abiding relationships with friends and colleagues.

Agree Disagree

2) Professional colleagues, mentors, advisors and role models were important in my life.

Agree Disagree

3) Life is full of random events that I attempt to convert into adventures.

Agree Disagree

4) In my professional social life I present my truest and best self.

Agree Disagree

5) I know what I can change, what I can’t change and the differences between them.

Agree Disagree

6) I redirect my energies, instincts and desires into useful pursuits.

Agree Disagree

7) Humility is a great virtue.

Agree Disagree

8) The harder I work, the luckier I get.

Agree Disagree

9) I work hard and play hard.

Agree Disagree

10) Decisions I made at important turning points in my career were beneficial to my career.

Agree Disagree

11) I am energetic and optimistic about my career and my life.

Agree Disagree

12) I gain energy, pleasure and renewal from my work or career.

Agree Disagree

13) Excellent job opportunities and offers well-suited to me have come my way as if by chance.

Agree Disagree

To interpret the results of the short 13-item version, please note how many of the statements you agree with, divide by 13, and convert to a percentage. The closer the result is to 100%, the closer you approach agreement with people who changed careers easily and happily.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Non-clinical Career Directions for Physicians

• Medical/Health-Care Communications (Publishing, Marketing, Market Research, Editing/Editorial, Acquisitions, Writing, Advertising)

• Pharmaceutical Firms

• Investment Analysis

• Investing

• Financial Engineering and Development

• Management Consulting

• Public Health

• Entrepreneurial Activity

• Medical/Health-Care Start-Ups

• Venture Capital

• Recruitment/Medical Executive-Search

• Medical Real Estate

• Personnel/Human Resources

• Management/Administration

• Insurance

• Lobbying

• Public Service (Government, Foundations, Non-profits).

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dr. Stephen Rosen is chairman of NYC-based Celia Paul Associates, which specializes in distance counseling for physicians and other professionals who are seeking career development and change. He welcomes comments at 212-397-1020 or srosenc@verizon.net.