The Dangers of Alternative Careers Lists for Doctors

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.

Alternative careers searchFor 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:

1) One size fits all

What are my options_600

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.

3) Demotivation

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.

4) Damaging effect on health

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.

5) Trusting others to tell you what’s best for you

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.

Conclusion

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.

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If you like this post, please follow me on Twitter (@options4doctors) and Faceboook (www.facebook.com/options4doctors).

I would be interested to hear about your experiences of looking for alternative careers. Please comment in the box underneath.

10 comments on “The Dangers of Alternative Careers Lists for Doctors
  1. DocSpiration says:

    I very much like the conclusion of this text! You should always try and take one foot out of the wheel. But this step is not always easy.
    I am writing about doctors who work in alternative fields/positions. Feel free to get inspired on docspiration.net or get in touch if you have a story to tell!

  2. Jen says:

    Hi Evgenia. I know this is a pretty old post but I just had to say thank you SO, SO much for posting this!! It feels like such a taboo to raise doubts or express desire to leave medicine. I’ve been unhappy in medicine for at least a decade (honestly, probably since my third year of medical school), but it’s really come to a head over the last 2 years or so – I’ve tried to ignore it and steam ahead (which was highly successful at first!) but it soon made me ill, forcing me to take time off anyway. I’ve sacrificed all other aspects of my life to get where I am – all my energy has gone into trying to force myself to continue with medicine and to shape myself into someone who enjoys it. I’ve wondered what’s wrong with me, I’ve wondered why others are so happy and I can’t be. I’ve wondered if I’m depressed? psychologically damaged? selfish? ungrateful? – I figured there must be something wrong with me! I’ve googled and googled to desperately try and find an alternative but have still not experienced that ‘light-bulb’ moment.. I guess I was hoping for some sort of pathway for ‘recovering medics’ but unfortunately it doesn’t exist! I completely agree that I know what I don’t want to do, but not what I do want to do!! As a result I’ve kept crawling back to medicine over and over again, more and more demoralised and demotivated with every conversation (“why would you want to leave medicine – you’ve spent 10 years training to get where you are!”, “but everyone hates their job, no-one is happy”, “what a waste – what about all those other applicants who were rejected before medical school”, “but what else would you do – I can’t imagine you working in an office”, “what about all the money you’ve invested into it”, “but you always wanted to be a doctor, ever since you were a little kid”) and with every click of the mouse. I don’t think it helps that as doctors we’ve been living in a bubble and as such have no experience of CV writing, job applications, networking, “normal” job interviews or selling ourselves (in the job-sense, of course!). It’s a scary world out there and it takes real guts and courage to take that leap and go against what’s expected of us. Thank you for sharing your experience (and the quotes). It’s really liberating to read your thoughts on it all, especially knowing you’ve successfully made the transition! x

    • admin says:

      Dear Jen,
      Many thanks for sharing your story, which I know will resonate with many medics not only in the UK, but world-wide. Please let me know (here or by contacting me directly) what might help you move forward from here, and I’ll see how I can help.
      Warmly,
      Evgenia

  3. Drags says:

    I still really love orthopedics, but in India and probably the whole world, the innovations are just not happening. Where is the amount of work that a young surgeon can do anymore? I wanted to be an orthopod for the challenges. The hospitals are full of managers with their own agendas. Clinical practice is no more an exciting and interesting thing for a young surgeon.

  4. Drags says:

    I totally agree with you, Evgenia. One must find one’s own comfort zone and work to create value. If one depends on a salary to pay debts, bolder decisions are harder to make. Thus youngsters must understand money early on. Thank you for this post. It solved the problem of whether I was the odd one.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for this comment. You are certainly not “the odd one”. The more senior you get in the medical profession, the more critical career decisions become, because it is increasingly likely that you’d need to factor in things like a mortgage, kids and other responsibilities. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to jump ship at a more senior level – there are Executive Search firms specialising in the Life Sciences sector that could be a link into industry for the more senior medical professionals. Careful planning is required at any stage though.

    • admin says:

      Why not think laterally and consider opportunities to apply your orthopaedics background to the non-clinical (but still medical) roles? Next time you’re in theatre, or on the wards, or in clinic, I recommend that you carefully inspect the products you use in your clinical practice (e.g. surgical instruments, implants, etc) – note the manufacturer brands and start looking up opportunities at those companies. They all heavily rely on the clinical expertise of people like you for the development, marketing and sales of their products.

  5. Anna Tong says:

    Hi Evgenia,

    What an inspiring piece. I’ve made the decision to leave medicine. I have just graduated and only recently admitted this to my seniors. EVERYONE has something to say on the matter, although my peers are very supportive and respectful of my honesty to myself. I’m so happy with my decision, I know who I am and, as you say, sometimes it’s easier to know what isn’t right for you than to know what is.
    I wonder if you can give me some advice. I’ve got a few months to decide what I want to do. I have applied for a graduate scheme in HM treasury policy advisory. I intercalated in ethics so am genuinely interested in this job. However, it is very competitive – no guarantee I will even progress to the next stage.
    Having read your piece I am again questioning my choices – my biggest fear is working hard and forcing myself into a job that isn’t for me. I have done this before – I really don’t believe I ever actually wanted to be a doctor, I was young and driven but hadn’t any understanding of the work and life sacrifices involved.
    I asked myself what I really want to do and, if I’m honest, my passion is interior design or fashion (sounds cliche but I’m being honest). People who know me well are certain that I would thrive in these careers. I have some talent in art, before my scientific mind took precedent I was achieving in design at school. Plus it does make me happy.
    I know this question isn’t yours to answer but your piece has thrown caution to the wind – I’m now wondering whether I should truely follow my heart. Am I being unrealistic?
    Should I pursue more sensible options which I may, or may not, find interesting and rewarding?
    Sorry for rambling, I think just writing this has opened my options up.
    I hope you ar happy in whatever you are doing!

    Best Wishes,

    Anna

  6. admin says:

    Dear Anna,
    Many thanks for your comment. I agree it’s hard to be making a decision about something that you will work hard for but may not enjoy in the end. This is the nature of most decisions we make as humans. Ultimately, you won’t know until you try. I must admit that since writing this article, I have reassessed my own view about “passion”. I now tend to think that it can work both ways – starting with a passion OR starting with something AND making it your passion. Have a read through this article https://goo.gl/03hA1A and see what you think.
    Have a think also what you’ve got to gain and to lose if you do get on this graduate scheme and decide where it fits in with your current, 2-year, 5-year, and 10-year priorities. I’m sending you an email separately so that we can schedule a chat.
    Evgenia

  7. David Quinn says:

    Dear Evgenia,
    I’ve read your comments with interest. I’m in the early phases of considering a career change having run up against a brick wall regarding career progression. There are lots of emotions in the early stages and I am waiting for those to calm before I make a final decision.
    Some of my considerations have been medical device companies or alternatively careers in areas such a non clinical groups, e.g. CQC or Monitor

    David

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