Alternate career paths for doctors
Significant time and effort is required to establish a medical career, particularly to specialisation.
Traditionally once you had embarked on a medical career pathway, you stayed in it for life. However, now it is becoming more acceptable and mainstream for doctors to explore a change in career direction at any stage of their medical career. The challenge for most doctors contemplating a career transition is where, or how, to commence this process.
The number of doctors consulting AMA Victoria’s Careers and Pathways team seeking advice on a change in career direction is steadily increasing. These doctors are often surprised when we tell them that we coach many others like them seeking a change.
Medicine as a career covers a broad spectrum of opportunities. The common pathway of hospital intern, registrar and resident, a specialty training program and progression to a long and rewarding career as a specialist is not the only way to utilise medical training and experience. Historically, leaving this traditional path was not contemplated by doctors, let alone considering working outside medicine entirely. This may have been for many and complex reasons – the time, effort and cost invested in becoming a clinical doctor, public perception and prestige, the professional status and identity being a doctor provides, a feeling of obligation and the requirement to maintain a certain level of income.
The reasons such a change is now more frequently sought vary widely. For some doctors a complete career change might be the best option, for others the development of a parallel career path or allocating time to other interests, medical or nonmedical, may be a better solution.
Some of the reasons doctors seek advice on a potential change are:
- change in circumstance – existing path no longer fits
- personal goals and aspirations have changed
- bored and disengaged
- burnt out / health challenges
- do not like working in the hospital system
- unable to obtain a place on desired training program – what else suits?
- do not enjoy clinical work
- seeking ‘life balance’ – current pathway inhibits
- returning after a career break
- medicine was the wrong career choice
- work in, or pursuing a specialty, which does not fit anymore
- seeking redirection in order to become passionate about role as a doctor
- professional diversification – seeking to broaden the use of skills in non-clinical roles
- unable to pass exams to achieve fellowship
- seeking part-time or flexible work conditions obstructed by current role
- want to do something in the short term using medical skills (not usual path)
- want more community involvement
- seeking an adventure.
You need to consider carefully why you are pursuing such a change. What are you seeking? A change requires a lot of time, thought and effort. Careful planning, research, networking, further study, willingness to contemplate a backward career step or a stepping stone approach may be necessary. It is a very individual process with many things to factor in.
There are so many career options available. Some will have equivalent or greater remuneration potential, many will not. The skills doctors have gained from medical training and clinical practice are highly transferable to a diverse range of professions. Transferable skills, in addition to specific medical knowledge and experience, most doctors will have honed include:
- coping with pressure
- time management
- communication skills
- empathy and compassion
- problem solving
- professional integrity
Other relevant skills some doctors will have gained are leadership, management or teaching. These skills lend themselves to hundreds of nonmedical careers, but as most doctors are seeking roles utilising their medical knowledge and experience we focus on careers that utilise those skills. These include scientific, academic, technological, advisory/consulting, managerial and administration, media, retrieval, public health, health advocacy/education, other non-clinical medical roles and many more.
In future editions of Vicdoc we will publish a series of career conversations with doctors who have successfully embarked on a new career path and more detailed information about alternate medical careers available. We would also love to hear your stories if you have made such a change.
In the meantime, if you would like some assistance in investigating an alternate career path, please book a free 15-minute career call (available to AMA Victoria members only) or a career coaching session.
Alternate career conversations
In this Career Conversation series, we are profiling a range of doctors who have transitioned to non-traditional paths.
Dr Amandeep Hansra: Founder of Creative Careers in Medicine
"I, like many others, tried lots of different things as my interests were so diverse."
Dr Louise Teo: Career Medical Officer, Epworth HealthCare; Founder, themedicalstartup.com
"I spent most of my life thinking it was wrong to have so many interests, feeling pressured to 'just pick one'."
Dr Melanie Tan: Doctor, lawyer, medico-legal consultant
"In my own time I remain an independent educator, writer, media presenter and PhD student (in law)."
Dr Brandon Carp: Healthcare solutions entrepreneur
"I started to see health-related problems, outside of those of my patients, that I wanted to solve and decided to abandon my aspirations to be a dermatologist."
Dr Sue Abhary: Medical Administrator, Clinical Director
"I finally decided to follow a career path which combined my research, clinical knowledge and medical administration skills."
Dr Venita Munir – ED doctor and writer
"Both my husband and I are emergency physicians and the shift work wasn’t conducive to how we wanted to bring up our daughter."
Is clinical medicine for you?
Some things to consider for many of you questioning a career in clinical medicine.