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Wednesday
Feb232011

Physician Career Transition is a Process, Not An Event

Remember that old saying from Ralph Waldo Emerson about how life is a journey, not a destination?

Well, the same can be said for successful physician career transition.  The process can be as important, if not more important than the end result.  True!  End results will change and evolve ... but without careful consideration of the steps required to make a sustainable career change, the direction you take may not be the right one.  I've seen this lead docs into repeated unsatisfying attempts to move into non-clinical environments ... and has the propensity to end up convincing them to stay right where they are, resigned to being unhappy in the work they've chosen.

But this doesn't have to be the case.

The tricky thing is, by the time that most physicians have made the mental and emotional decision that they want to leave clinical practice, they become impatient to act.  Sometimes their drivers are purely negative ones:  they're burned out, frustrated, they want to escape what medicine has become and their place in it.  But more often than not, I see the drivers that really get them going are the positive ones:  they are excited by the potential opportunities they see, directions that they can take their medical knowledge in, possibilities for doing something bigger.

The problem is for some docs (at least some of the ones who call me), is that they see the possibilities and they want to do it now.  I'll never forget a mid-career physician who contacted me in July and decided that he wanted to be in a new, non-clinical, non-healthcare related role by January ... could I help him make that happen?  After speaking with him at length, I could respect and admire his enthusiasm and his desire to get it done ... but I had to give him the major reality-check that this just would not, could not happen in the timeframe he desired.  There were some critical things that he would need to do first.

Unfortunately, too many physicians considering non-clinical jobs (like my caller) only keep their eye on the finish-line.  With a vague idea that a particular job might be interesting of "something they could do", they forge ahead.  They skip going through the process of stepping back... that is, making sure that the desired job / industry / career is a good fit for them, making sure it will provide them with their "must haves" for fulfillment, and assessing whether they could be successful doing it.

And this process of stepping back takes time.  But it is worth it.

Successful career transition - particularly when you're moving from a highly specialized field into an industry or role that requires a significantly different skill set (most non-clinical jobs!) - takes focus, effort, money, and yes, time.  It is a process that requires moving through a series of critical phases to ensure that you are setting yourself up right.  The last thing you want to do is dive into a new career, taking your family along with you, only to discover a year or two later that you're as unhappy as you were in clinical medicine.

To ensure sustainability, success, and overall happiness with your choice of "next chapter", you  need to ensure that the change you are making fits you, that you are comfortable with your skills/expertise and the value you bring, and that the market has a need and recognizes your value.

So how do you do this?  You start by paying attention to the process.  You start from the beginning.

Get Introspective.  You may think that you know what you want, who you are, and where you need to go to be happy and professionally fulfilled.  But do you really?  Until you have truly taken the time to dissect some of these things, it is easy to miss some very critical truths about yourself that may impact the direction you decide to take.  Inventory your values -  not your professionals ones, not stewardship and teamwork and all that, but your personal ones.  Really clue into what motivates you, and what makes you tick.  This may take some deep, personal work.  Prioritize your values, and figure out how well-aligned your current professional life is to them.  You may find that there is a significant disconnect that is fueling some of your discontent.  Start to explore and research work that aligns better to what matters to you as a human being.  

Go further to figure out exactly what you bring to the table by sifting back through all of your past experiences and identifying the skills (healthcare and non-healthcare related) that make up your unique value proposition.  Find your specific leverage points - those particular skils/experiences that can launch you towards your next career.  Research where you could best fit the needs that are out there.  Figure out what your "optimal job" characateristics are and prioritize them.  Compare any potential opportunities to that list of must-haves and be honest with yourself.  Make sure you understand and honor what you truly need to be happy and fulfilled in your next career.

Too many physicians want to skip this introspective work and start developing their resume.  It is true that resumes are a critical part of the career change process, but they are not where you start.  Until you really understand your unique value proposition and your unique direction, building your resume at this point is premature.

Introspection is a critical component to professional fulfillment.  You can't start in the right direction without truly knowing what the right direction is.  Once you've figured this out, you can begin to see what your finish line might be - the right one for you.  All subsequent steps in the career transition process - exploration, preparation, acquisition, and finally transition (thanks to Dr. Michael McLaughlin and his book "Do You Feel Like You Wasted All That Training") - will go much more smoothly if you know that you are moving toward a goal (job) that will be what you need when you get there.

Lastly, recognize that moving from one career to another will not be a linear process.  It will have its stops and starts, and sometimes it will circle back.  But as long as you know that you are going in the right direction, you will be making progress toward your goal and venturing toward the best finish line for you.  And that is what matters in the long run.

So to get started, get to know yourself really well. You might be surprised what you learn.

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