Career Development: Deciding and Moving Forward

Medical Post
Helping Hand Column, 2011 #3

Many of us reach that point when we know that a change in the course of our medical career is inevitable.

We may have decided to modify our current medical practice. We can reassess the number or range of hours we work, or move to a different practice location, or move to work with new colleagues.  We can look at our scope of practice, and identify and eliminate what we no longer enjoy about our practice (eg. choose to stop doing obstetrics in our family practice) or balance it with some positive medical or non-medical activity (eg. free up a half day to take art classes). This may just bring us the positive change we seek.

Sometimes, we choose to define a new focus in medicine. This may mean pursuing further training to change the clinical focus of our work, such as completing a one-year fellowship to do GP Anesthesia, or learning to use lasers in our practice.  In fact, doctors in clinical medicine occupy only about 1% of the workforce; there are so many other things we can do.  Further career diversification can include options such as adding on roles in medical education, leadership, administration, and research.

There are also many roles possible outside of medicine.  These can be options such as working in the government in health care policy, insurance companies as a medical expert, a corporate position at a pharmaceutical or medical equipment company, technology in medicine, consulting, writing, speaking… or just something else you have always wanted to do!

Making a change in our careers in mid-life is not easy.  Generally, the higher up the ladder one is, the harder it is to choose something different as there is more one has to lose. However, if you are truly not happy, every day that you stay is another day that you fall behind. It is important to do what you love, but one does need to have proper financial and business plans.  It helps to have a financial cushion before you leap.  A mentor of mine often suggests that colleagues put away money from the start of their career to support a possible year off fifteen years later.

There are several factors to consider in the timing of a career change.  Clear earning expectations should be defined; there is often a decrease in income since there are relatively few other positions that offer the consistently high earnings we enjoy in medicine. We need to have a sense of clarity and focus.  The size of our network may be a factor, as is the time and the money we have to invest in this change.  We need to consider our own willingness to relocate, as well as the support we would have from our partner and family.  It helps to know and understand our past history and experiences with change, as this will enter into this current experience too.

There is great discussion about whether one should go back to school.  Education is crucial, and qualifications are necessary. Yet, more is not better.  You can highlight the formal education you already have, and transferable skills you have gained; and future employers already know that you can learn. If you do decide to get further education, do so with a sense of clear purpose, and begin with the end in mind.

Once we have taken a full assessment of our interests, skills, values, and goals, we can create a vision of our future.  We enter a phase of career exploration, in which we need to explore what is available in this area, update our CV, research potential employers, prepare for interviews, and explore work environments and colleagues. Next is the decision making stage, where we can narrow down choices, make a decision and develop a game plan.  At this point, we can let others know if our plans through networking, letters, and personal meetings, so they can support us.  We are off to a new beginning.

Mamta Gautam is an Ottawa psychiatrist who specializes in treating physician patients. If you have a question you would like addressed in this column, please contact Dr. Gautam at Please include “Helping Hand” in the subject line. All inquiries will be confidential. Your questions will not be replied to, but may be selected to be answered in this column, which is intended to be educational, not therapeutic.