Posted by Evgenia Galinskaya on 24 January, 2015
Before finally making my career transition, I regularly searched Google for “alternative careers for doctors”.
There are multiple sites with lists of alternative options for those with a medical degree. Google search returns nearly nine million articles on this topic! But what if none of the options on these numerous lists seems “right”? Does it mean there is something wrong with you?
I struggled “to find” an alternative career for several years. Many lists presuppose that doctors would necessarily want to use their medical degree in one way or another after leaving clinical practice. Healthcare consultancy, Pharma, medical communications, medical education, medical ethics and law are just a few such examples. There were of course options that required transferrable skills but not necessarily a medical degree itself: investment banking, journalism, politics, management consultancy. They, too, didn’t appeal.
For many years I begged Google search to give me something – anything – that would just feel right. I didn’t know what it would be but I secretly hoped that Google would. I would look at yet another list and ask myself “Do I want to be a banker? Or an advisor in medical law? Or perhaps I should sell myself to Big Pharma?” and every time this left me feeling frustrated and disheartened, because absolutely nothing was speaking to my heart.
I knew that I didn’t want to become a hospital Consultant or a GP but I didn’t know what else I could do instead. In fact, after hundreds of searches I got the point that I knew every job and career I DID NOT want to have but was still none the wiser about what IS right for me. “Perhaps, I should just stay in Medicine. After all, that’s what I trained to do and that’s what I do well, never mind feeling unfulfilled. And who is fulfilled in their jobs anyway?” Some weeks would pass by, and I would be back on Google hoping that some new options have come up since last time.
At one point I decided to just pick something and give it a go. My would-be career was going to be in management consultancy, because I knew several other doctors having made that transition. I wanted to believe it was a reasonable option (status, money, interesting work for intelligent people) to allow me to make the transition while I am figuring out what it is I “really” want to do. My lightbulb moment came unexpectedly over a coffee with a former doctor who was a Consultant at BCG. That encounter changed the course of my career and my life.
That friend of mine listened to “my story”, my reasons for seeking a new career opportunity at BCG, as well as my questions about how to best prepare for the selection process. Then he asked me “What do you ACTUALLY love doing? What’s your passion?” I was startled because no one had ever asked me that (and besides, you can’t make a living by doing something you love, right?). He didn’t buy into my argument of having a Plan B while I am trying to figure out what my Plan A should be.
Deep down I “knew” that the BCG job would be just a “way out of medicine” and I would end up on Google looking for “alternative career options for management consultants”. My eureka moment was when I realised that my next job may not even exist yet and that I could create it based on what I know about myself, my interests, strengths, passion, dreams – what is right for me. It was as if my friend gave me permission to pursue what is truly meaningful for me.
Through that experience, I realised there are 5 reasons why the lists of alternative careers for doctors are not very helpful:
They force you to do what got you stuck and unfulfilled in the first place: trying to fit yourself into predefined boxes (jobs and careers) without first assessing the elements that make you happy and fulfilled, all the things that make you YOU.
It may appear that there are many options, but unless you know yourself, you’ll be (literally) banging your head against a brick wall.
2) Limited career choices
The lists often assume that your new line of work would have a medical flavour. Despite the apparent variety of options on those lists, there may not be that one thing that you are passionate about.
If Harry Hill, Graham Chapman, Graeme Garden, Phil Hammond, Ken Jeong, Adam Kay were relying on those lists, they certainly would not have found “acting” as an alternative career option for doctors. If Farhana Safa relied on those lists, she would have never made a transition from an ophthalmologist to a car designer, just as Tim Kinnaird may not have become a macaron and luxury cake chef. I would have probably been stuck in BCG management consultancy instead of pursuing my calling and helping doctors create fulfilling careers.
If nothing on the list jumps out at you, it’s easy to feel there is something wrong with you. Perhaps you should stop being silly and continue doing what you have been trained to do? This can give rise to procrastination and calling it quits before giving yourself a chance to discover what work (if not medicine) you were born to do.
In opposite to (3), you may feel compelled to choose something, anything, to feel like you are moving forward. I see this a lot for doctors who are moving out of clinical practice to the Big Pharma world. Some of these doctors tell me that their heart is not in it but at least their medical degree is not being wasted.
If you are a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, on top of time, effort and frustration of forcing the fit, you will end up damaging the peg. Ok, this is a metaphor, but the ill-effects of the “wrong career” on mental and physical health are not very hard to imagine.
Those lists are a compilation of options based on someone’s opinion of what doctors can do. Despite the good intent, whoever compiled the lists would not know about your unique experiences, talents, values and passion(s).
The bottom line – your options are truly endless. The “right” option will come to you from within, if you take time to discover yourself and pay attention.
Henry Ford said “If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got”. If you are a doctor who has career doubts and repeatedly finds her/himself asking Google for the “alternative careers for doctors” miracle, how about doing something different? Why not take a step back and really get to know yourself (step 1 of the career planning process on the diagram below)?
What do you ACTUALLY love doing? What’s your passion?
Exploring options is the second step, not the first one. Doing it in this order, you will notice something amazing: the “right” opportunities will start presenting themselves without you having to spend countless nights in the company of Google search.
The only person you’re destined to become is the person you decide to be (quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson), so I urge you to put away someone else’s lists and start creating your own fulfilling life and career.
I would be interested to hear about your experiences of looking for alternative careers. Please comment in the box underneath.