I’m the Founder of Medic Footprints and I’m a medical career disruptor.
I’ve disrupted my own career and through Medic Footprints have facilitated that of others. From a personal perspective, there have been several occasions where I’ve had to re-evaluate & reflect on my career goals, ambitions and professional achievements; in doing so have seized many opportunities to boldly leap towards the uncomfortable, risky and path of uncertainty with a quest to gain real satisfaction in my life.
I’ve never regretted a move – not once.
Not all the moves worked out as I expected. Some were disappointing, and all brought very different challenges; yet they were all amazing learning opportunities which I’ve used to strengthen my position moving forward.
Many of the ‘successful’ or ‘driven’ doctors I know have also disrupted their medical careers against common sense or conventional means, therefore I thought I’d list some commonalities I’ve noticed in this unique network and that of myself.
1. Quit near the end of your training
I quit my Occupational Medicine training number with only 1 year to go.
This had nothing to do with the specialty – more so I realise I have a strong desire to pursue a balanced portfolio career with an alternative option of becoming a Consultant in Occupational Medicine via the non-training route (CESR). In my own time.
It sounds mad with only one year to go, and with many saying “Why don’t you just suck it in and finish it?”
My answer? It was time for me to go. Continuing for the sake of ‘finishing it’, would likely have had a detrimental effect on my health considering I’m balancing running a business, fundraising and managing a team. Having experienced burn out a few years prior, one could argue I left it a bit late.
I’m not unique in my decision – I’ve spoken to hundreds of doctors who have done the same. Some have left medicine entirely, changed specialty or simply taken a sabbatical until they decide, but very few even know about the CESR (non-training) route.
The CESR route is a heavily under-utilised, and little known way of achieving completion in training in the UK without having to stick to a formalised or rigid training programme. Some trusts are actively trying to convert doctors to Consultants via this route because they have the experience but not the regulatory or hierarchical recognition.
Take home advice
If you’re truly unhappy in your specialty or training and you’re near ‘the end’. Don’t continue trying simply to ‘finish something’.
Weigh up the risks and benefits of continuing and speak with an impartial careers coach. (If they tell you you must finish, move on and find one that won’t prescribe an answer at all – this is for you to decide.) There is always more than one route you can take to achieve your professional goals. Make sure that route works for you and be aware that your needs will change – hence so will the route!
2. Apply for an Influential or Leadership position
Many doctors are keen on influencing change and improving inefficiencies healthcare but are frustrated by the system creating obstacles to enable them to do this.
Apply for a position where you can do this.
You may not be able to work as a Chief Exec if you’ve only worked in a clinical capacity, but there are several positions where you can significantly influence change from advisory, to non-executive, or even as a management consultant.
The latter tend to get a bad rep amongst public healthcare / NHS purists. In my opinion this is because they have little understanding as to the wider healthcare ecosystem, and how most doctors who transition to healthcare consultancy find it extremely rewarding to directly influence change and speak to the key decision makers they otherwise may not have had direct access to whilst they were working in the hospital!
Check out career opportunities in your organisation and pick out the ones that look interesting. Most job descriptions are not specifically looking for doctors therefore it won’t list ‘medical degree’ as an essential requirement. However if you read the detail in the description as a doctor you will have most of the transferrable skills required (and more) to do the job. There may be roles we have no experience of, but don’t forget how quickly we learn and adapt!
If nothing is available in your organisation – look further afield until you find something – apply for many! Success is partially a numbers game.
3. Design your own portfolio career – part of which has nothing to do with medicine
It’s common to do something related to healthcare, but why not venture into something completely different?
Examples I’ve seen – dance teachers, car designers, olympians, TV presenters, art gallery curator, actors, DJ, .. the list is endless.
Doctors who develop portfolio careers as such report enjoying their clinical work even more because they’ve established a balance. They’ve chosen to design a career that works for them.
These doctors generally do well when it comes to applying for jobs beyond conventional clinical medicine, simply because they have a unique story to tell, are well-rounded and can demonstrate a diversity of transferable skills which can be useful in any workplace setting.
4. Get involved in medical politics
With the junior doctors contract debacle in recent history, and other highly emotive and recent political events within healthcare, tens of thousands of doctors have taken to the relevant Facebook forums and aired their concerns far openly than they ever would in person.
The online medical community has demonstrated some real swagger in organising protests, submitting representatives for media events and more. Notably however, formal representatives for unions such as the BMA are definitely more diplomatic in their approaches – especially online. As influential and figure-heady they all are, one forgets how much they have to sacrifice to be in such a position.
Some have sacrificed their careers and pivoted into other areas – usually related to healthcare.
So -are you passionate about influencing change – locally, nationally or online rant? Find your niche, but heed the occupational hazards that come with it.
5. Take Leave
I’m referring to any type of leave; – paid, unpaid, maternity, ill health, sabbatical, you name it.
My career trajectory was disrupted on many occasion – the latest was a career break which was preceded 6 months earlier with a 2 month break due to ill health.
I’d never taken that duration of time off for ill health and actually (like many doctors), it almost had to be enforced. (I remember being given a sick note by my GP, followed by me making my way into work. I was subsequently told to leave.)
Looking back – taking that time off was one of the best things I did.
The period of reflection and time to focus on my health was essential.
It was the beginning of a healing process that still continues to this day – and the realisation that whatever I choose to do in life, and if I truly want to continue being successful – I have to ensure that my health comes first.
This is one thing I’ve learned that I can never compromise on.
If any of this resonates with you or you’re considering taking time off – or you are off, you’re also likely experiencing a huge amount of guilt for not being there to support your colleagues or giving them ‘extra work’.
The reality is – you being at work and unwell was probably giving them extra work anyway – therefore giving yourself the time to heal and return as an efficient and engaged worker, is doing a lot more for your organisation than you realise!
Whatever your reason to take leave – make sure it really counts and it is viewed as a unique opportunity to focus on you. As healthcare providers, we rarely get this chance.
For a list of support systems available for doctors in the UK – check this page.
So – these are but a few ways to really jump off that treadmill if this is something you feel is necessary for you.
Whatever you do – make sure you have a great support system available for you at all times; ignore the naysayers, listen to your intuition and find a network that will listen without judgement when you’re overcoming those inevitable road bumps.
Wear a seatbelt and don’t forget to enjoy the ride!