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A Career Exit Strategy in Medicine

Medicine – not an easy career. But there are worse things to be than a doctor. At some point, it’s nice to know that you can exit your career. I think it’s best to have a plan rather than burn out from your career.

Winding Down Your Career

I’ve talked about alternative careers enough that I won’t rehash it here. The goal of your career exit strategy is to wind things down slowly.

A sudden change will jar you, and it’s hard to find your new bearings. Some believe you should start planning the day you start.

A surgeon will want to cut back on surgery days. A GI doctor may want to give up endoscopies. And the ENT will prefer to see patients in the clinic for consults.

Ranking Different Aspects of Your Work

As you get older, it’s nice to develop a ranking system for the different aspects of your work.

The daytime shifts are fine for many hospitalists, but the overnights are brutal. That would receive a score of 1 on a 1-5 scale.

Telemedicine consults for many physicians rank 4 or 5. But doing more than 4 hours in a row would rank 0.

This ranking will change as I get older, so I revisit it often. It is enough to talk about it here on my website or write about it in my journal.

Career Exit Strategy

A complete exit strategy still requires you to wind down your career. You go from full-time to part-time to per diem.

This process is healing because you see how things are different on the other side of the fence. And working in new systems sometimes offers you job opportunities you never considered.

Revisiting the ranking system is essential to cut out clinical work completely. Maybe you want to own a restaurant or run a commercial real estate business.

Ranking Non-Clinical Tasks

I have owned an auto mechanic shop, taught at a community college, and had plenty of other jobs.

It’s important to know what you enjoy doing and what drains you. Some things you might love doing, but they drain you – they can be done only for a short period.

If you love writing or speaking, that should get a high ranking. Coaching or teaching are other desirable traits and should get ranked.

Learning new skills are required. For example, if you want to get into landlording you have to be okay with learning new markets and people management skills.

My work can’t involve a lot of travel. I enjoy traveling slowly. Traveling gets a 1/5 rank from me.

Physical labor is out because I prefer to get my workout in the gym. 0/5.

Having a boss, for me, ranks 2/5. Not ideal, but I would consider it. I deal with CEOs in my healthcare consulting work, but it’s not easy.

The retail industry is a 0/5 for me in every way. I don’t like to deal with customers who buy something from me in a store.

Finally, managing a large employee base is an HR nightmare, and I’m not good at it. 1/5.

Obtaining Further Training

Being a financial advisor or real estate agent often requires further training. Getting the licensure is an excellent way to know if the work is right for you.

However, anything with a low barrier to entry will have a lot of competition, and it’s harder to make a name for yourself.

A student teaching business can be lucrative if you advertise it to fellow physician parents. Not much training is needed.

Therapy or a healing practice, has been popular for the past few decades. It’s not hard to find a particular healing modality and get some credentialing in it.

Investing Money into the Career

I’m weary of any business or career which requires a big financial commitment. At least I want to be able to dip my toes and see if I like it.

If it’s running a cafe, I will need to work somewhere for a few months before deciding to invest $200k in my own cafe.

But some businesses like real estate are great for physicians since we have a lot of capital. The barrier to entry is tougher for most but the very savvy.

Knowledge Work

Analysts and consultants are often paid good money because they must process and present information coherently.

Teaching is also a type of knowledge work.

Health informatics is multiplying and employs physicians who can bridge the gap between technology and healthcare.

Customer Service Work

Coaching is less knowledge work and more customer service. You are dealing with personal hurdles and barriers.

Selling retail products behind a counter is customer service work.

Servicing the Rich

The working class often will pay for things based on the price. The rich will pay based on the value they get.

They will pay a lot of money for an excellent handyman whom they feel safe around and who will deliver as promised.

Therefore, financial and health services for the rich are quite lucrative.

Chasing Your Interests

I like writing and teaching. Becoming an author or monetizing my website is a good career move for me.

Athletic individuals may do well as health coaches or trainers. Your physician background will make you quite desirable.

A surfing destination may be an excellent investment if you’re a surf enthusiast. You have to be willing to like the hospitality industry part of the business while you get to enjoy the surfing aspect.

Policy and Politics

Exiting medicine might mean you stay on the policy or politics side. From pharmaceutical lobby groups to medical device companies, physicians need to understand the clinical process.

There are jobs outside of medicine in such large healthcare industries. You can start as an employee and later run your private consulting firm.

Staffing and Training

Physicians are great at following orders and performing tasks to a particular standard.

A staffing agency for nurses, physicians, or armed security can be incredibly lucrative. Again, it’s a bit of an HR nightmare for me, but you might like it.

Perhaps you can consider a professionalism course for nurses or physicians who had trouble in their careers. State medical boards or malpractice attorneys often require these remedial courses.

A Slow Exit Strategy

I don’t see a reason to rush things. A proper career exit strategy in medicine should allow room for trial and error.

I have been experimenting since 2016. I like telemedicine, consulting, coaching, writing, and real estate. But I haven’t decided which will be my exit or encore career.

2 replies on “A Career Exit Strategy in Medicine”

Hi Dr Mo, I found your article extremely relatable. I’ve been thinking about exiting and other avenues of work for the last 2 years working as a resident. I’m good at what i do, but i dont find enjoyment and mostly feel drained. I’ve come to realise the sacrifices and hard work needed to progress is just not worth it, especially when it’s at the expense of my mental health.

Your interests are really similar to mine, i enjoy teaching, coaching, sports and fitness. Exiting from medicine to these careers sounds risky and not as lucrative. It’s frustrating to be in a situation like this unable to make a decision

Hi Irfan, thank you for sharing your personal journey. I’ve been there and I have some idea as to how you feel. Which I think is even tougher when you’re a resident. It’s not pleasant to not be looking forward to your career you’ve spent this much time working towards.
Exiting from medicine is unpaved but it’s far more risky to stay in something that you know is hurting you. I’d rather jump over the cliff into the waterfall than stay there and fight a bear that is charging at me.
Lucrative is subjective. I can earn 3,000 euros a month in Spain as a doctor and live an amazing life or I can earn $300k in West Los Angeles and barely get by.
I deeply feel you when you say how hard the indecision is. It’s during these times of indecision that you sometimes are willing to discover something that you otherwise would never consider.
You posted here which 80% of residents and medical students wouldn’t even dare to do! Once you verbalize it it’s real but it also is something that you can now face. I think there is a lot of opportunity still left in mainstream medicine but it requires intentionality. And the health coaching space is burgeoning!
Come out to Germany in October – I just sent out an email to my subscribers inviting to my get-together here in Göttingen, Germany. I’ll buy you a beer and we’ll talk.

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