Feeling stuck? Have you hit the ceiling in your current healthcare job for opportunities to grow? Feeling like there is more out there to do? Perhaps it is time for you to shift and consider a career pivot.
I’ve often heard from my healthcare colleagues that after 5 years of doing the same job, they feel a desire for something different. If you have been feeling unsettled, or just curious about what else is out there, now is a great time to explore. Even if now is not the time to act upon change, now is the time for you to consider what opportunities could be on the horizon. You may need to do preparation to make a pivot in your career, especially if you are switching to a profession that requires additional education or credentials.
Physicians spend many years on the path of medicine, setting aside hobbies and other interests due to the time required to pursue a career in medicine. In most cases, you’ve spent 8 years just to become a physician and then another 3 to 7 years of residency and/or fellowship for a specialty. Once you’ve spent 11 to 15 years becoming what some have dreamed of since elementary school, it can feel unwise to consider making a change after 5 years of finally practicing in your field. At that time, you have spent more time training than you have spent working in the field. You may have mentioned this to your significant other, family members, or friends and they respond with bewilderment at how you could even be considering doing something different. Yet when you acknowledge how you feel, that is exactly what you want to do. So how do you reconcile this? Great question!
Take a Step Back and Reflect on What You are Doing Now
Start where you started when you decided you wanted to go into medicine. Confirm that change is what you want, then learn what it entails to make the change. Put together a plan for making the change, and execute the plan. Essentially, you do it! This is your life to live.
You and no one else must go to work every day and take care of the responsibilities that lay before you. Yes, others may depend on you, and your change impacts not just you but them as well. However, if you are no longer happy doing your job, and your job feels like work just for a paycheck, and there is no joy in the service you provide, this path can lead to resentment and both mental and emotional distress.
Let’s explore the infamous question of why you are feeling stuck. Are you doing what you started out wanting to do? Why did you want this particular career in medicine? Understanding your why helps to keep focus during your plan for the execution of change. You may become discouraged with having to take more classes, or the possibility of losing an income level. Those around you may become frustrated with, or afraid of your change. Sharing with others your why can help them to embrace and support your change.
Assess Where You Are, and Investigate Where You Want to Be
Once you have identified your why, then begin investigating what you need to do to make the change. Do you need another degree such as a master’s degree in public health or policy to serve in government administration? Do you need training in pharmaceutical research to transition into pharma? Do you need licensing, similar to opening a bakery or a restaurant?
Confirm if This Career Pivot Is Where You Want to Be in the Future
Begin networking with people in your new field to learn and establish connections. Insight gained from others doing what you are planning to do is invaluable. It saves you from headaches and mistakes in the future. As you understand what is needed to make your career change, you can make a timeline that allows you to work on exploring these options while still working your current job. This could mean that you have to make time adjustments at work, such as decreasing your schedule or using vacation time. Delegate to others where possible and begin allowing others who are not using their skills maximally to do more to help you.
Consider the Possibility of Other Career Opportunities
What if you must make the change suddenly? Life does not always afford us the opportunity to execute plans the way we would like. The pandemic has caused many physicians to take a step back and decide if the extreme mandates that have overtaken many areas of medicine are circumstances they are willing to continue to subject themselves to. Some physicians faced administrative changes to increase nonphysician clinicians and decrease physician services. These situations dictated a pivot to occur.
Some physicians may have chosen lateral change to a similar position but with a different system. Others looked at this as a chance to explore other opportunities beyond lateral moves in clinical medicine. Some physicians chose to explore administrative roles to have a voice in decisions made on how medicine is delivered. Some have opened their own independent practice and chosen alternative models for providing care such as direct care. Some chose nonclinical careers allowing for remote work to accommodate being home with their children. They desired more flexibility in their schedule as has been noted with utilization review. Yet others have gone into health coaching and course creation. Some have gotten into real estate. Some have renewed passions for painting and have begun selling their artwork.
Above all, making a career pivot is about taking a step back and reflecting on what you are doing now, assessing if this is where you still want to be, confirming if this is where you want to continue being in the future, and then considering possibilities of other opportunities.
Whether you are taking a moment of self-reflection of your current status, or experiencing an unexpected requirement for change, a career pivot is a great time to ensure the next phase of your career truly reflects who you are and what you enjoy. You need and deserve to have a career that you enjoy, and it be more than just a paycheck.
Despite the many years invested to become a physician, your original idea of who you are as a physician may not be the same today as you thought it would be when you started. Evolving and embracing all the beautiful facets of who you are can make you a better physician, whether you continue in clinical practice or choose a nonclinical area. The knowledge and experiences you have will make you great at anything else you choose to do. Now is your time to see what could be on the horizon for the next season of your life. Reflect, assess, confirm, and consider. You never know where a career pivot can take you!
Crystal A. Maxwell, MD, MBA, FAAFP, is a board-certified family medicine physician with over ten years of experience. She is the Founder & CEO of LIGHT Family Wellness. She is also a wellness coach, author, speaker, wife, and mom. Her website is www.lightfamilywellness.com, and she can be followed on Instagram and Facebook @lightfamilywellness.
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