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Tuesday
Nov302010

Leaving Your (Professional) Comfort Zone

While many more physicians these days (certainly the ones I talk to) are more open with the idea of expanding their career outside of the clinical medicine they've been trained for, there are others that are still very deep "in the closet" with their desires for change.

I've wondered what makes physicians such a different breed of professional, when mid-career people in different industries or professions see career jumps and side-steps as an expected and required part of their career progression. In the corporate world you are looked at funny (i.e., as lacking skills or ambition) if you're not considering a move to a different company or role within 3-5 years of being in one place.

So what makes doctors so different? Why is it so difficult for you all to leave your comfort zone and move to something new? What are the unique barriers and drivers for professional change that you experience?

Well, true that the years of training inhibit changing careers, the time and effort, and certainly the investment you've placed on becoming a successful physician. 

But there are other factors too.  Expectations of yourself.  Expectations from others. 

While many times the desire for a career change is something that has developed over many years, even starting as far back as med school, it is inhibited by the very real expectations of those around.  One doc I worked with described it as a "train he couldn't get off "... once the expectations from his very traditional family (with a long lineage of physicians - his father, grandfather) placed him there, he buckled down and did his best, all the while ignoring the nagging voice inside of him that said "this isn't a good fit for you". 15 years later he is deciding to do what he needs to to be happy and professionally fulfilled ... and with the support of his wife, he is looking outside of medicine for the first time.  What a relief for him, and how exciting the possibilities.

And of course there is what I simply hear over and over again - that one of the main drivers to leave clinical practice comes from the increasing level of disappointment with what being a physician means today... dealing with being "squeezed" by the changes in healthcare, being told how to practice, feeling undervalued, feeling out of control when it comes to your professional life and how it impacts your personal one. 

Notice that none of the people I've talked to say that they "hate medicine" or don't like taking care of their patients - on the contrary, most physicians I speak with consider that the most rewarding part of their work.  It's just everything else that gets in the way.

Luckily there are some very positive reasons I hear physicians wanting to expand outside of purely clinical work. Another client of mine encompassed it as "wanting to do something bigger". As an anesthesiologist he felt that he had hit the growth ceiling when it came to his specialty, and felt that instead of simply doing the same thing day in and day out, he wanted to leverage his skills/experience in a larger platform. Figuring out what that platform would be and how he uniquely brought value to that industry / role was his next challenge, and he brought passion to figuring that out. 

Physicians as a whole are some of the most entrepreneurial types I've ever encountered. Smart, organized, linear thinkers - put them in line with a strategy, and they just go. If anyone can build something to make change happen, it is a determined doctor.

The outgrowth of communities like Freelance MD, and conferences like Medical Fusion (which I highly recommend) show that the desire and the drive to explore and expand outside of your professional box is not yours alone. There are many other like-minded professionals who are out there, interested in the same thing. I hope you use venues like this to connect and compare notes. Getting out of your comfort zone is easier with inspiration and encouragement from those who are doing it too. Good luck!

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