Physicians Might Be Pleasantly Surprised with Career Change

November 22, 2011

From the military to academic medicine to private practice, changing courses in healthcare can be worth the risks.

The first seven years of my medical career were in the Army, the last four as a faculty member in a military residency program. My colleagues were superb - some of the best people I’ve known.
 
The job was almost always high stress with multiple competing demands: clinical, administrative, strategic, among others. I was a doctor, an officer, a teacher, an administrator, and on some occasions someone who was expected to shoot a target with a weapon I handled once every three years. Oh yeah, you could be told, with 24 hours notice, that you were being deployed for 15 months.

It was a stressful and difficult job. It was rewarding at times, to be sure, but not the type of job that I could do, voluntarily, for the rest of my career. However, I would look around me at the colleagues who did make it a career and wonder: What am I missing? I mean, there must be some hook to keep them in with the ever-present demands and stresses. I secretly feared that in getting out of the military when my obligation was over that I was somehow stepping into an even worse situation in civilian medicine.

Not so. My next job was as a faculty physician in a residency program. It was still demanding and stressful. I continued to have great colleagues and my job remained rewarding. Only, I didn’t have to wear a uniform, never got an unexpected trip to a Middle Eastern country, and only did push-ups if I wanted to. After making the change, I couldn’t imagine why everyone didn’t follow me.

Five years later, I needed a change. Burnt out on academic medicine, frustrated with the increasing demands of being a teacher-physician, I looked at private practice. Something didn’t seem to add up. I would make more money working fewer hours. What was the catch? Of course, I knew that no one would pay me for academic work or research in private practice. I guessed that either I’d be forced to see 35 patients a day or would spend all of my free time charting in the electronic health record. I made the change anyway. It was a great choice for me.

It’s true that when you make a change, you are usually exchanging one set of problems for another. That has been the case for me both times. But, since I kind of suspected what the new problems were and was happy to change those out for the old problems, I wasn’t surprised to find myself occasionally spending two extra hours after work completing charts or spending my day off working on academic projects. So, what I’ve learned is that while the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, sometimes it is.

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