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Entries in physician career transition (5)


Physicians Who Feel Relevant

I'm always surprised at the number of physicians I work with who worry about, discount, or do not see their relevance outside of clinical practice. I do, of course, recognize their relevance - the trick is to get the docs to.

For many physicians, venturing into positions of leadership, becoming a Department Chair, VP Medical Affairs or even Chief Medical Officer) is a logical step for those looking to expand their skills and take on new responsibilities that grow their career.  The physicians that pursue these roles have obvious relevance in this arena, particularly when they bring the years of relationships and their history with the hospital into the role.

But for docs actually leaving the familiarity of the hospital environment, the fear of being irrelevant seems to be a common (if not typically expressed) theme.  Many physicians worry that while they have developed very deep skills and expertise, their repertoire is relatively narrow, and this makes them fear that they lack the requisite skills to be successful in the non-clinical world.  For most, this is simply not true.

Physicians come to the table with a myriad of transferable skills, as well as a wealth of needed knowledge and expertise.  Many times organizations are hungry for what the doctors have to offer, and for the value that they provide.   

In my experience, one of the best parts of working with physicians interested in non-clinical pursuits has been accompanying these intelligent, creative and energetic professionals as they realize that they have a lot more to offer - and are more in demand - then they ever thought they would be.  

The truth of the matter is that you, as a physician, bring years worth of skills and experience that can position you to be a tremendous value to organizations that lack your unique combination of ability and expertise.  Value comes in the form of younger docs with years of disciplined schooling under their belts and a willingness to "jump in", or mid-career physicians who have enough experience to know what they didn't know in the beginning (and how to use that for the best outcome), or seasoned docs that bring decades of experience and perspective with them into their role.  

Many of the physicians I know that have transitioned completely outside of medicine into start-ups, biotechs, or pharma companies often remark that they cannot believe the organization functioned without a doc in their role.  It gives them a window into the need for physicians' skills and knowledge base outside of clinical work, and how they can impact many more lives than they would seeing patients one-by-one.

They feel validated.  And indeed, they feel relevant.


Making Things Happen As A Physician In Transition

Overcoming the obstacles between dream and reality.

You’ve thought a lot about leaving clinical practice and transitioning to a non-clinical career.  You considered starting your own internet business or writing a book or investing in real estate.  You thought you had a good idea at the time.  So, what’s keeping you from making it happen?   

As a physician, you’ve probably considered many great ideas—or dreams—about your future.  But those dreams have little value, if you don’t follow through and make them a reality.

If you have encountered obstacles in executing your ideas, you are not alone.  Countless ideas with the potential to transform lives—concepts for new medical products or models for new businesses—are probably conceived and misspent in the hands of talented physicians every day.  The ideas that move people forward are not the result of tremendous creative insight—or inspiration—but rather of masterful planning and management.

Successful entrepreneurs tell us that ideas don’t just happen by accident—or because they are great.  Whether you have a solution for an everyday problem or a bold new concept, you must transform your vision into reality.  Far from being some stroke of creative genius, this capacity to make ideas happen can be learned and developed by anyone. 

Success depends on making things happen

Whether you are in clinical practice or in industry, success depends on developing and executing new ideas.  You may come up with creative solutions to medical problems every

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The "Six C's" for Creating a Better Life

I’ve been speaking with lots of doctors about their lives and careers lately, and the vast majority tell me they’d like to be doing something different with their lives.  Not all of them are ready to give up on medicine, but almost all of them wish they could change something about their careers or lives in a substantial way.  Some would like to work less, some want to see a different type of patient or would consider a different practice style, some want to do more volunteer work, and some would like to try a different career altogether.

Sadly, of all the doctors I talk with, only a very small fraction believe they could actually make the significant changes they dream about.  Most of them are so entrenched in the day-to-day grind, so wrapped up in the identity of how their current career defines them, and so unaware of the amazing gifts they possess, they can’t allow themselves to really consider making the changes they think would ultimately make them happier.  Instead, most doctors just keep living lives of quiet desperation, burying their true desires and watering down the impact they can have on the world.

So what does it really take to step away from what’s familiar, yet unfulfilling?  How do some people—even “successful” doctors—make the leap from a career that feels safe, though uninspiring, to a life that is more exciting and rich with opportunity, yet certainly more risky and uncertain? 

Through discussions with those who have accomplished this transition, as well as looking back at my own journey, I’ve identified six major principles, or characteristics, that must to adopted or developed to successfully recreate yourself in some meaningful way—whether it be within the realm of your medical practice or an entirely different pursuit.

I call them The Six C’s

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Movin' On: The Path Not Taken

Last week I got an email from a former physician colleague. He still works at a health care organization that I left years ago. The re-connection got me thinking about what I would have missed in my life and career had I remained at that organization. Now that I'm about three months away from leaving ACPE after three and half years as CEO, I've been in a reflective mood.  

First, leaving the traditional health care organization, with its typical hospital-physician-insurer tugs of war over reimbursement, culture, and authority dynamics, was a breath of fresh air for me. Never comfortable with the status quo, I wanted to get out and find new approaches to improving health care. 

Freed from the constraints of orthodoxy, I signed on to join a small start up company focused on changing consumer behavior in the workplace to reduce health care costs, and create a healthier workforce. I learned how to find investors. I learned how to assemble office furniture from IKEA because frugality, functionality, and teamwork was required of everyone on the senior team. I liked the idea that our work and execution of strategy would determine whether the business concept would succeed. When a couple of senior professionals left, I understood that I would have to take over some of their responsibilities of consumer research. I enjoyed doing that. Even though the company eventually closed its doors (like most start ups), the experience was a good one.  

Next, I joined a couple of system safety engineers in their growing consulting group to learn about how aviation, nuclear power, manufacturing, and other industries had become highly reliable. It required learning new concepts and language, then translating that to health care. It was exciting to work with health systems, physicians, and nurses who were committed to being pioneers in adapting the safety science of engineering to health care. I soon discovered that several other physicians were intrigued by the same concepts. We could talk the same language, and see a path to improving performance and patient safety. The consulting work was part-time, which allowed me to travel, and get a major stonemasonry project moving along. Could life be any more interesting or satisfying?

When ACPE's founder and CEO announced his retirement in 2008, the opportunity came to build on everything in my background. I found the new challenge that made my life more interesting and satisfying. I'm convinced that having worked in the insurance, hospital, medical practice, consulting, and entrepreneurial sectors of health care was attractive to the ACPE Board. I viewed the College more as a nimble, creative start-up opportunity than a thirty-five year old professional association. The strategic thinking and business plan execution required of start-ups was far more important than having a background in association management.  

Learning how to listen to the staff, which includes journalists, artists, educators, and professionals in marketing, IT, and finance, was key to surviving the recession, and rebounding from it. I asked our creative artists and journalists how they would redesign our journal - pej - to give it a more contemporary look and feel.  Who would have thought that changing to small case, big blocky letters would have such an impact?  The quality of writing - both from physicians and free lance journalists - increased.  

From my private equity market experience, I paraphrased a quote from Malcomb Forbes with my Board about their role and my role:

"There are but two questions a board should ask at each meeting.  The first question is always the same: 'Should we fire the CEO today?'. If the answer to the first question is "yes", then the second question is, "Then who among us shall serve on the search committee?". If the answer to the first question is "No", then the second question is, 'Then how can we support the CEO and the staff to be successful?'

Some said that was "too harsh" a way to look at the governance-management issue. Not for me, nor for the great board chairs I had the privilege to work with. All are great friends - but we all understood the harsh reality and consequences of running a business.  

I was left thinking that if I'd stayed with my previous organization, I would have had a nice salary, important title, pension plan, and nice people as colleagues. But I most certainly would not have found my way to ACPE, learned how to lead and manage through the recession, or have the opportunity to work with talented people outside of health care, who have a lot to offer to those of us working in the health care industry. I'm looking at my next transition at the end of the year as adventursome, exciting, and fulfilling. One way or another, I'm "leaving the tribe" again - a topic I'll be speaking on in Las Vegas at the Medical Fusion Conference in November.


Dr. Michael Callahan and the Medical Fusion Conference

Not long ago I caught up with my friend, Dr. Michael Callahan, and got his thoughts on our new Medical Fusion Conference.

Michael is an Infectious Disease specialist from Harvard who works with DARPA and the U.S. Defense Department in various niche areas.  He's an expert on reptile envenomations, high altitude acclimitization, and international search and rescue.  Each year we have the privilege of learning from Michael at our Expedition Medicine National Conference in Washington, DC. 

As an individual who has broadened his career to include many interesting and unique areas, I was curious what Michael thought of our Medical Fusion Conference .  Check out the video below to get his insights...

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