A Career Development Secret To Stop Doctors Being Struck Off

Earlier this week, a story about Dr Ed Holloway “moonlighting as an international equestrian commentator” sparked a massive debate in the national media (Daily Telegraph 22/10/2014) as well as on Social Media.

Watching a video  of Dr Holloway giving a short interview at the Stregom Horse Trials 2012, I observed a young man speaking with real passion about the sport he loves. While his law background, medical training and career indecisiveness were mentioned very briefly, Dr Holloway talked with great enthusiasm about his 15 year experience in equestrian commentary: “I love the commentary. I love the sport… to talk about it is quite natural”.

As the debate about professional integrity, probity and how fair it was to strike Dr Holloway off the GMC register continues, no one can argue that he has a real passion for equestrian sport. With a retrospectoscope, it is now easy for us to speculate about what would’ve been if he decided to focus on building a career based on his real passion and talents, rather than going to medical school. What if he never considered it as an option? What if he simply didn’t know how to approach career development?

What influences doctors’ career choice?

In younger years, we get fixated on the “job titles” when asked “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”. If you’re a nice helping kid, a reasonable choice would be to train as a nurse or a doctor. If you are good with children, it may be sensible to become a teacher or a nursery nurse. And of course, one cannot ignore the influence of family and friends, as well as a perceived status assigned to various careers and job titles in our society. Unambiguous job titles like “a doctor” or “a teacher” or “a lawyer” are a perfect currency at parties where “So, what do you do?” is meant to be an ice-breaker. Hearing you are a doctor, people take their hats off without you having to elaborate any further (despite the fact that you didn’t actually answer the question).

Expectations versus reality

After many years of training, you eventually reach your career destinations as Hospital Consultants or GP Partners, with the expectation that life would be “sorted” from then on. Quite often your expectations are not matched by reality. The job title on your badge is rarely descriptive of what you (actually) do, or what you stand for, and certainly is not an indication of how fulfilled you are going to be in that role.

I spoke to several senior clinicians at a recent BMJ Careers Fair (London, 18/10/2014) while running Career Advice sessions and after my seminar “7 Reasons Why Doctors Make Great Entrepreneurs”. These were some of the comments about their careers:

– Life is OK. Money is OK. But I’ve got this nagging feeling that there is a lot more I can give to the world. I can’t do it in clinical practice…

– I feel wasted in medicine… like a pawn on a chess board…

– I don’t want to just be employed – I want to feel live…

I feel trapped. I’ve lost the passion I used to have…


Although many of us happily jump through hoops of medical training in our twenties and early thirties, the recognition that time is ticking while life is passing by becomes more acute in later thirties and into forties, or at any time when facing a life-changing event. Wherever you are in your professional journey, career planning is certainly a lot more complex than “If he is so keen on horses, why didn’t he train as a vet?” (one of the comments posted online under the article about Dr Ed Holloway). The truth is, no one teaches us the principles of a successful career development at medical school. It was not until I left clinical practice and retrained as a career coach that I discovered a helpful framework any doctor can use when planning their career.


The top secret to a successful career development

The secret is that successful career development is a stepwise process consisting of four steps. You should always begin with Stage 1 (Self-Discovery), then systematically work your way through Stage 2 (Options and Opportunities), Stage 3 (Making an Informed Decision) and finally Stage 4 (Plan Implementation).


Self-discovery (Stage 1) is acquiring awareness about your unique work values and preferences, passion(s), purpose, talents and skills, strengths/weaknesses and limiting beliefs that may be holding you back from going after what you really-really want. Your talent(s) is your natural ability to do something well. You are born with talents and can discover them but you can’t change them. They are your gifts. Your values constitute what you believe is important, and it is evident in the way that you do things. Having a sense of purpose is about what gives you a meaning and a direction in life. Without it, you are likely to feel like a hamster on a wheel going round and round from objectives, to goals, to tasks, targets and box-ticking, and then back to do it all over again. Your passion is the energy that fuels your actions. It is what makes you tick.

Being disconnected from purpose, or being unaware of own passion and talents, or being in an environment unsupportive of your values and strengths, may result in disengagement, lack of enthusiasm and lack of motivation. Feeling “like a pawn on a chess board” is hardly empowering yet it seems to be the daily experience for many medics.

Stage 3 is about making an informed decision(s), based on the process of narrowing down the options in the context of really knowing yourself. This is similar to the process of coming up with a differential diagnosis for a patient. Stage 4 is about plan implementation and is always followed by reassessment.

The importance of career development process

Some doctors make a mistake of skipping the ‘Self-Discovery’ step (Stage 1 of career planning) and going straight to considering ‘Options and Opportunities’ (Stage 2). Doing this is the equivalent of jumping straight to patient examination without taking a patient’s history first!

Creating a fulfilling career starts with a realisation that you are constantly growing. You should regularly reaudit your career situation by taking purposeful actions to learn more about Self, before rushing to do the next diploma or a degree. I do wonder how different Dr Holloway’s professional journey would have been if someone helped him to connect with his passion for equestrian sport and his talent for speaking (commenting) before he embarked on the journey of medical training. Dr Holloway’s case highlights the importance of being honest… with yourself. I do believe that running away from yourself is the race you’ll never win.


Earlier today, I saw a comment on Twitter from a member of staff of a popular UK medical school (with reference to Dr Holloway’s case): “We’re trying our best to drill professionalism and responsibilities into medical students”. I believe there is better way to educate medical professionals about Good Medical Practice than drilling it into medical students. Educating them about how to approach career planning and helping them to connect with their passion and purpose is a good start.

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