Studies have shown an increase in physician burnout in recent years, and those statistics aren’t likely to improve any time soon. Burnout is a common factor behind job dissatisfaction along with a lack of work-life balance and ongoing stress levels. Add to that decreasing reimbursements and increased administrative burdens, then sprinkle in some boredom and repetition. No wonder doctors sometimes wonder what happened to the art of medicine.
For these reasons and many others, physicians may consider leaving the ranks of daily medical practice to start a new adventure. Some doctors may move into consulting or join a tech firm, while others seek careers on the periphery of the healthcare sphere. No matter where their path takes them, changes in the medical field are not uncommon.
However, some doctors may consider a career change and hit a wall almost immediately. Julia Pewitt Kinder, DO, says physicians’ first response when they feel the desire to do something that doesn’t involve patient care is to try to talk themselves out of it. She says the most common protests she hears in her consulting business, Physician Career Opportunities, revolve around the time and money doctors have already invested in their career, education loans for which they may still be paying. “They say, ‘Why would I consider changing? That would be crazy. I’m respected, I make a difference, and I make a good living.’”
It can be difficult—and families aren’t always supportive—but acknowledging they deserve to be happy in their jobs may be the first hurdle many doctors need to overcome. Once physicians realize they no longer want to focus on clinical practice, the prospect of changing their career path can be daunting. Throughout their extensive medical training, no one ever talked about career transitions, and they don’t have a clue where to go from here.
Many doctors are reluctant to ask for help, but Peter S. Moskowitz, MD, encourages them to reach out to a career coach who understands medicine and can provide the necessary support. “It will shorten the transition time dramatically and save doctors a lot of heartache by having someone to help guide and mentor them through the process,” says Moskowitz, executive director of the Center for Professional and Personal Renewal and emeritus clinical professor of radiology at Stanford University School of Medicine.
An honest assessment of potential career directions, along with a physician’s skills, abilities, values, and work preferences is key to success. It’s also a process that can be difficult for physicians to follow, especially those who have already been unhappy for a long time. Heather Fork, MD, CPCC, owner and founder of Doctors Crossing, encourages physicians to view the transition as a journey and an opportunity to find out more about themselves. She also reminds doctors they don’t have to find one “perfect” career to transition into. “You already did that when you became a doctor, but that’s not where you wanted to stop,” she says, adding she recommends doctors consider several career possibilities.