Is clinical medicine for you?
We established the Medical Careers Service at AMA Victoria seven years ago due to increased demand by our members for a safe, non-judgemental and objective space to discuss their careers. Since then we have supported hundreds of doctors in the role of advisor and coach to develop and manage their medical careers. Over this time there is not much we haven’t heard about the highs and lows of a career in medicine. Questioning a career in clinical medicine comes up often; reasons for this are many and varied. A few we hear often include:
- Issues of fit for chosen pathway and role.
- Imposter syndrome and non-identification with peers and superiors.
- Burnout and the challenge of inflexible work and training models.
- Inability to progress career and achieve professional goals.
- Incongruence between personal and professional demands.
- Boredom and a desire to diversify (re-energise) career.
- A keenness to transition away from medicine – what else is out there?
What support is available to explore non-clinical/alternate pathways?
This final theme of ‘transition’ away from clinical medicine to non-clinical or alternate pathways is an area we have experienced considerable growth in over recent years. There is a misconception within the profession that these doctors are either ‘not cut out for clinical medicine’ or that they are ‘under-performing’ as clinicians. However, it is important to understand that in the majority of cases this is untrue and it’s the doctor’s decision to leave medicine or diversify their career. They do this on their own terms; it is their choice.
Despite this, there is often a negative stigma attached to such a decision and whether this is real or perceived is irrelevant. The sense of shame, betrayal, distress and embarrassment these doctors often bring into the coaching session is considerable and very real. However, there is also a great sense of relief in having made this declaration – sometimes it is the first time they have admitted publicly to anyone, even themselves, that the career trajectory that they are on is incongruent with their needs and wants.
Why the shift away from clinical medicine?
Our insights on why doctors are exploring pathways outside of clinical medicine come from our interactions with hundreds of doctors, as well as through our extensive engagement with the profession, our members, wellbeing forums and partners. Some of the reasons doctors give for wanting to leave clinical medicine include:
- The realisation that a doctor’s personal and professional strengths, interests and needs do not align with the pathway they have chosen. This often manifests in burnout, boredom and a lack of identification and engagement with the role and their peers.
- Rejection of the traditional career trajectory rewarded by the profession – i.e. specialisation.
- Issues of access to accredited training roles and constantly changing goal posts leaves doctors-in-training trapped in a professional bottleneck, unable to progress their career forward, even if they do what is asked. Many find this excruciating and opt to leave.
- The traditional structure of the profession does not support flexible work models and changing workforce dynamics. They are forced to choose what is most important, so they do.
- They don’t think clinical medicine is a sustainable career pathway for them – in terms of work demands, structure and tasks of the role.
- The profession is deemed as demanding too much of them and they are not prepared to sacrifice their personal aspirations and family.
- Changing life goals and priorities.
- Bored – looking for a new challenge and to learn new skills.
- The health system and patients – too many demands, too many decisions, limited support and an inability to influence change.
- Other interests and passions they want time to pursue.
- Illness and changes in life circumstance.
- More flexibility, standard hours, and weekends off.
The steps to take if you believe clinical medicine is not for you
Reflect on your professional role and understand yourself better
- We strongly advocate that doctors and medical students increase their awareness and understanding of their natural style, strengths and interests. We encourage them to take time to reflect on what insights these provide in taking up their medical role and assessing pathways. We believe in bringing a strengths-based approach to navigating your career. Move towards professional roles that interest you, come naturally to youand leverage your strengths.
- Doctors also need to understand what work environments, demands, culture and values align with their needs. By needs we mean the fundamental things a doctor requires from their work, the people around them and the work culture to thrive. Many doctors don’t understand what these are, how they translate to a work role and how to educate others around them on what they need. If your needs are met, you have the opportunity to thrive and reach your potential.
- Become more aware of environments, rotations and areas of your work that you find interesting and enjoy and those that don’t. Reflect on why this is the case and what it means. Consider if you can move towards doing more of what you enjoy in your role.
- Be mindful of identifying peers and seniors who are like you, or you aspire to be like – this can provide insights as to how you might want to shape and adopt your approach in your role. It also might help you find pockets of clinical or non-clinical work where people ‘like you’ excel.
- Ask yourself whether your mix of work is right – sometimes it just needs to be realigned or tweaked.
Don’t do it on your own – connect and seek support
- Obtain a mentor and build your network with people you admire or aspire to be, to gain advice and support.
- Seek assistance in the form of professional career coaching to support you to think about and manage your career. AMA Victoria offers ‘Professional career coaching programs’ for doctors.
- Talk to your boss about broadening the scope of your role.
- Join professional interest groups (medical and non-medical) and engage with your professional association, AMA Victoria, to broaden your network and connections.
- Socialise with people outside of medicine.
Build capability – gain experience
- Get involved in projects and programs that align with your interests and build capability.
- Upskill – obtain a new credential that builds new skills, engage in a short course.
- Further education – explore formal postgraduate education opportunities that align with your interests and build knowledge and networks.
- Say ‘no’ to things that no longer interest you and ‘yes’ to things that do.
In summary, we are not convinced that the shift away from clinical medicineis a new phenomenon. However, there is a movement within the profession to provide a voice for doctors who want to look beyond a clinical role, which has helped to normalise it and in fact to celebrate doctors experiencing success in other fields, besides medicine.
This is evidenced by the rapid growth in recent times of communities such as the Facebook group ‘Creative Careers in Medicine’ founded by GP and digital health leader, Dr Amandeep Hansra, who has worked tirelessly to raise awareness, support and networking opportunities for doctors exploring pathways out of medicine. We recommend joining these communities as well as engaging with our coaching team to better understand why you might want to leave clinical medicine and what this might look like.
AMA Victoria’s Medical Career Service is designed to support doctors at all stages of their career. For more information, visit www.amavic.com.au/careers-advice or please contact us on (03) 9280 8722 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Manager, Medical Career Service