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Stephanie Cajigal
Senior Editor, Medscape

Eve Teichman
Editorial Assistant, Medscape

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6 MDs Who Quit Clinical Practice and Never Looked Back

Stephanie Cajigal; Eve Teichman  |  October 17, 2016

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Slide 1

Career Reset

Who hasn't at some point daydreamed about quitting that job and pursuing something completely different? These six physicians, whether because of burnout, dissatisfaction, or other reasons, did just that.

Here are their stories and advice.

Image from iStock

Slide 2

Internist-Turned Medical Writer

"I loved seeing patients but found myself constantly worried about the flaws in the system—the places where errors were possible. I exhausted myself trying to provide great care amidst chaos. Eventually I realized that I needed to leave, but I didn't understand until a few years ago that the cause was burnout.

I thought long and hard about the decision. I went back to school during the last year I was practicing to pursue a degree in public health. When I graduated, I accepted a position as medical director of a healthcare communications company. There, I found that I love to write. Fortunately, I had a strong undergraduate education in liberal arts and was able to transition to a career as a freelance writer fairly easily. Today I write about the problems in the healthcare system that affect patients and care providers, and highlight the individuals and organizations that are trying out innovative solutions to solve these problems."

Images from Dreamstime and courtesy of Diane W. Shannon, MD, MPH

Slide 3

Neurosurgeon–Turned–Legal Consultant

"I had a son, age 3, just diagnosed with severe autism. We moved to North Carolina and I planned on taking a year off, to focus on my son and family, and then return to neurosurgery. I was introduced to scientists at the University of North Carolina who were developing first-of-class pharmaceutical compounds for autism, Parkinson's, schizophrenia, and more. We raised money and licensed these compounds and started a biotech company. The company moved these compounds from preclinical to phase 2 and was ultimately sold to a medical device company.

My motivation for transitioning from the daily clinical practice of medicine was personal—to help my son. By the time the company was sold, it had been a while since I had been in the OR. I knew I loved being an entrepreneur, so I started Medical Justice.

There was no slow transition. Anyone who makes the leap should recognize that they may have to tighten their belts for a while and get family buy-in. Don't look back. If you transition with safety in mind, you'll never fully commit."

Images from Dreamstime and courtesy of Jeffrey Segal, MD, JD

Slide 4

General Surgeon–Turned–Health Policy Expert–Turned–Startup CEO

"I always had diverse interests and wanted to find a way to have a broader impact on patient care and healthcare in general.

I got a master's in public policy from Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School; this allowed me to explore a longtime interest in health policy and politics. After Princeton, I served 2 years as a senior health policy advisor in the US Senate. My role in the Senate provided an unparalleled opportunity to be involved in decisions that would have an impact on patients across the country and on healthcare at the systems level. While in the Senate, I first encountered the health technology world and became enamored of the potential for cutting-edge technology to change medicine for the better. I returned to graduate school to get my MBA at MIT's Sloan School of Management and study healthcare innovation from a business perspective. At MIT, I immersed myself in the health technology startup community and worked with both founders and investors in Cambridge and Boston.

I have no regrets at all. Clinical medicine is an incredible career, but it just wasn't for me. I have had the opportunity to work at the highest levels of US health policy and now the cutting edge of technological innovation, and I am still able to use my education and experience as a surgical resident."

Images from Dreamstime and courtesy of Joseph Shonkwiler, MD, MBA, MPP

Slide 5

Dermatologist–Turned–Career Coach

"I did like dermatology and helping my patients, but there was something very unsatisfying about spending only 15 minutes with patients, not really getting to know them, and running from room to room all day. I tried many different ways to enjoy my work more, yet the nagging feeling that I was meant to do something else never went away.

When I left dermatology, I had no idea what was next career-wise, and this was intentional. After selling my practice, I sold my house and lived in an 800-square-foot cabin for a time. The solitude worked wonders, and when I was ready to ‘figure it out,' the decision to become a coach was obvious. I looked back to see what I had been doing that no one was paying me for, and it was coaching. I had been studying personality types and programs for personal development for years. I'd try these programs out on myself and anyone who'd humor me—staff, friends, family. To launch into my new career direction, I became a certified coach through Coaches Training Institute and started Doctor's Crossing. I wanted to help other physicians with their own careers and lives."

Images from iStock and courtesy of Heather Fork, MD

Slide 6

General Surgeon–Turned–Clinical Informaticist

"Growing up, I was always tinkering with machines, and my dream was to be an engineer. In high school I got interested in biology and went on to do medicine instead. This was followed by a surgery residency during which I got interested in research and ended up teaching myself programming in C and SQL. I then practiced for some time in India before going to the UK in the late 1990s.

In medicine, if you move to a different country, you have to take exams and train all over again to practice. It so happened that testing was backlogged for over a year and I couldn't take the UK exams immediately. So I enrolled at the University of Cardiff to pursue my interest in computing. I then worked for a short time outside of healthcare before coming to the United States in 2001. I had a decision to make: Should I go back to surgery? Although it would have been very much in my comfort zone, I decided to take a risk and move forward in this nascent field of clinical informatics, which very few had heard about. It has certainly proven to be a very challenging yet rewarding field. In the last 10 years, I found myself drawn towards knowledge engineering: clinical modeling using ontologies, natural language processing of clinical text, and using semantic web technologies to link data.

I am fortunate to have been able to straddle both academia and industry, to blend research in clinical informatics with real-world applications."

Images from iStock and courtesy of Sivaram Arabandi, MBBS

Slide 7

Emergency Medicine Physician–Turned–Chief Medical Officer

"I was commuting to/from my home on an island (separated by a causeway) on the Chesapeake Bay. There were many families who had second homes on the island, and I also became the de facto family physician for the community. What started with taking care of injuries and suturing kids on the coffee table became helping families provide the support to allow parents to die at peace in their own homes and ensuring that friends and neighbors got to the right specialist for complex issues. There were no insurance forms or paperwork; my reward was a heartfelt thank you note. It was a very simple yet gratifying way to help people.

One of my neighbors, who is a healthcare executive, was doing consulting work for PinnacleCare. Knowing what I did for the community, she thought that I would be the perfect fit as a medical director for a company that had the same vision. I was not looking for a new position at the time but took the time to learn more. After talking to the founders of PinnacleCare, I realized that this was an opportunity to do what I was doing, but with resources that would allow me to expand this work on a much greater scale and share my passion with others focused on a similar mission."

Images from iStock and courtesy of Pinnacle Care

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