Tired of Being a Doctor? Choices for Opting Out of Medicine

Shelly M. Reese


February 02, 2012

In This Article


While the road into medicine is clearly marked, the trail leading out is tougher to discern. There are plenty of opportunities, experts say, but identifying them -- and selecting the right path -- may challenge career-changing doctors to develop some new skills.

In 2010, 24% of the 2400 physicians responding to a Physician's Foundation survey said they plan to drop out of clinical practice in the next 1 to 3 years by switching jobs. Of those, half said they plan to find a nonclinical job within healthcare, while the other half plan to leave healthcare entirely.

Which begs the question: What are they going to do?

Do Doctors Unwittingly Limit Themselves?

Doctors identify themselves with their profession more strongly than people in other fields. They don't just practice medicine, they are doctors. Healers. Physicians.

But by defining themselves so narrowly, doctors may be shortchanging themselves.

"Physicians are generally well suited to do almost anything they want," says Heather Fork, MD, an Austin, Texas-based career coach. "If they've made it far enough to become a physician it means they're intelligent, dedicated, hardworking and able to work under stress and pressure. Those are qualities that can be applied to any career. The door is wide open, but I think a lot of physicians underestimate what they're capable of."

They're also increasingly taking on leadership roles: serving on quality committees, leading departments, and acting as power users and champions for new EHR and clinical informatics tools.

Flexing those leadership muscles has made physicians more interested in -- and more qualified for -- a widening array of leadership positions, says Paul Esselman, Senior Vice President and Managing Principal of St. Louis, Missouri-based Cejka Search.

During the past decade, hospitals and health systems have become much more interested in hiring physicians for leadership positions. Recognizing the opportunity, more and more doctors are pursuing advanced degrees, such as MBAs, MHAs, and MMAs, as well as additional training through organizations such as the American College of Physician Executives.

Although continuing education can be an important differentiator and demonstrate a candidate's commitment, Esselman underscores that degrees aren't a substitute for experience. He advises would-be leaders to develop their skills and experience by serving on committees and pursuing leadership opportunities within their organizations and communities.

He also encourages them to learn more about the career path.

"If you think you want to go down a leadership development path, you need to talk with existing physician leaders," he says. Doctors may be accustomed to taking responsibility for their own conduct, he notes, but becoming a medical director or a vice president of medical affairs often means assuming responsibility for other physicians' conduct and performance. "That is something they'd have to feel comfortable with. That is one of the key elements of leadership."


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