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Feeling Stuck in Medicine

You know that feeling of being stuck in a relationship? You aren’t ready to leave the relationship but if something happened and it ended you’d feel so relieved. That’s been my feeling towards my medical career – feeling stuck in medicine and not knowing what to do about it.

I write a lot about medicine and alternative careers but that doesn’t mean I have found the right solution, yet. It’s a work in progress. I’ve come a long way – I’m in a much better place than I was in 2016.

Blaming Medicine

One of the first things people tell me when I share my feelings towards medicine is that all careers and jobs are like this. They say that a person will eventually feel burnt out and feel stuck in any career.

Perhaps this is true but feeling stuck in medicine isn’t a sustainable way to earn a living. Life is too short for that. It’s also too short to blame medicine for everything that’s wrong with my work relationship.

It isn’t healthcare’s fault and it isn’t medicine’s fault. I definitely had no idea what I was getting into. And even now a part of me wants to find blame in medicine just so I can resolve my feelings. But that hasn’t helped me.

I wish medicine was different. Less adversarial, less retail-like, and less autocratic. But who knows, it might change 180 degrees and I might still not enjoy the practice of medicine. Maybe I want it to be different but I don’t have a good sense of what I’d like it to be.

Feeling Stuck

I feel stuck when options aren’t apparent. Or when there is some external pressure on me that I have no control over.

“Just leave medicine and do something else”. This is the right sentiment perhaps but do what exactly? That’s the option that I don’t see. Which in turn makes me feel even more stuck in medicine.

“How you gonna pay back the debt?”. That’s what I asked myself when I had a mortgage and student loans. Or it might be a question your partner will ask you when you are the breadwinner.

I can’t unstuck myself if I don’t create some flexibility in my life. I can’t exercise other options if I dig a bigger career hole for myself. At some point I will have to be willing to make a sacrifice and make major changes in order to change my career circumstances.

I’ll either have to downsize my lifestyle or I’ll have to be willing to try careers that may or may not pan out. That’s the only way I’ve been able to feel less stuck in medicine.

Shifting Careers in Medicine

Imagine an x-y axis and a sharp spike in the middle. The curve shoots up, creates this sharp spike, and then comes down. That spike is where most physicians work.

Meaning, most doctors are clinicians, working as employees or in their own private practice. They are doing clinical medicine and working 40-60 hours per week.

Outside of that sharp spike of the curve, there are physicians who fall on either side of the spike. They might be doing consulting work or are CEO’s or product managers for medical groups.

I noticed a big improvement when I went from primary care to urgent care. And again a big improvement from in-person medicine to telemedicine. I saw some improvement when I got into consulting but not as much as doing telemedicine.

Changing Careers

This is such a daunting feeling. I don’t quite know why. Maybe I view a career as something you spend many decades developing and put in a lot of painful hours.

I think back to becoming a doctor and I had to do undergrad, research, MCATs, applications, medical school, residency, more exams, … This is the process I imagine when I think of changing careers.

That’s not true, however. I have gained a lot of experience as a physician which I don’t have to recreate. And whatever other career I pursue it will be much shorter since I’ve already done undergrad and already have a career under my belt.

If I want to be an artist then I’ll have the skills necessary to make connections and dedicate to creating art. If I want to go into law I already have an MD to help me land a good law school even without the best numbers.

If I want to open an auto mechanic shop I have enough retail experience and capital to improve my chances of success.

Still, the idea is daunting. But the biggest advantage I have is that I can make some money with my medical degree to keep me afloat while I make the full transition.

Taking Steps

One word that comes to mind is a mentor. As in, a person who has done what I want to do whom I can talk to and get advice from. I had great mentors as I was getting through my medical career.

The first mentor I find may not even be the right mentor. Maybe I’ll find someone who is doing health information technology work and after some time with them, I realize that’s not at all something I’d enjoy.

I might find someone who is doing healthcare consulting and pick their brain. They sort of become your mentor but there again, after some time, I might have no desire to pursue that path.

The nice thing about mentors is that they have been through the same emotional rollercoaster. And they likely have navigated the same hurdles. Reaching out is the hardest part but I’m convinced that there are plenty of people who are willing to help.

Alternative Options

I don’t know all of the alternative options out there when it comes to using my medical license. But the best source I’ve found is looking through job sites.

From indeed to DocJobs, there are opportunities to do research, be an analyst, equity associate, medical writer, investment banker, and many others.

I have found great gigs in telemedicine and healthcare consulting and writing through such sites. Some of it has panned out and offered me a few years of income and others have been dead ends.

I still feel stuck in medicine. But I’m not giving up. I think I will find something or develop something in healthcare that aligns well with my ideals. If nothing else this will keep me busy until I’m too old to want to pursue a new career.

2 replies on “Feeling Stuck in Medicine”


Long time without reading or commenting, the pandemic has been a big distraction. I struggle with this as well. Although, initially, when my struggles with medicine started, I thought it was all medicine. Some of it is certainly related to some toxic aspects of medical culture which are more prevalent in healthcare than in other aspects of out society. Most of it, however, is not.

Inherently, I have come to accept that what I hate about working in medicine is just an outgrowth of our modern toxic late-capitalist society. Nothing out of the ordinary, EXCEPT, that we were taught that medicine is SUPPOSED to be different, but it isn’t. It is just the fucking same as everything else. The difference between expectations and reality is where most unhappiness lies, medicine is no different:

“If you want to really relax sometime, just fall to rock bottom and you’ll be a happy man. Most all troubles come from having standards.”
― Thomas Berger, Little Big Man

In the end, I am married to medicine in some way or another, but each marriage is unique, and mine doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.

Question: Have you ever thought about doing locums in Correctional Medicine? (I haven’t done it). But it pays decent (lots of prisons in the West are located near good rock climbing) the pathology is impressive and patient adherence is not an issue.

Hope things are well for you!

Good to hear from you. I think it’s been a while since you have written or maybe I’ve lost my subscription? Nope, I checked, still subscribed. I enjoy your writing a lot – secretly hoping there is a book in there somewhere in the future.
I have definitely expected far too much from poor old medicine. It’s an industry like any other and it can’t just please me. I’m coming to terms with that more and more. And it can’t be perfect – sometimes it’ll fuck the wrong person over and sometimes it’ll give way too much to another person.
I still see value in medicine because I believe in basic healthcare. But I haven’t found where I can practice medicine and be 80% content with what I’m doing. Right now my mindset is that I’d mostly do it for the money. Secondly, I’d do it so I don’t forget the clinical stuff. Thirdly, I’d do it because what if the medical board comes knocking and saying that Dr. Mo isn’t seeing enough patients to warrant his medical license.
I think it would be better for me to see patients mostly because I want to help; I’m searching for that reason.
I’ve done jail medicine but not prison medicine. I’ve heard good and bad stories. It has potential and I know the money is great. But I wouldn’t want to commit. That’s the one hard thing for me right now, giving up my awesome free, unstructured time.
These days I hop on and do a little telemedicine and a little just answer. I make enough to pay for the stuff I care about. At some point I am thinking of doing my own clinic but I am still stewing on that idea to figure out exactly what that’d look like.

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