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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.