So you’re thinking of leaving medicine – now what?

Leaving medicine shouldn't be the end of a fulfilling career. If you're a doctor considering leaving medicine, this guide will help you regain control.

I entered medicine thinking I was going to ace my way through. I had everything meticulously planned. Little did I know that none of all that mattered because I was going to leave medicine. Twice. The second time after insisting that I should go back to finish what I started. In the end, I put my mental health as my biggest priority and had to leave. Here’s what I did, and what you can do too if you’re considering leaving medicine.

1. Rest and take a step back.

Take that well-deserved and necessary breather

Allow yourself time to rest, recover, and recharge. Leaving medicine comes with a whirlpool of emotions and you need to spend some time making sense of it all. Student debts and unemployment will play on your mind a lot. You’ll ask yourself if you’re weak to give up, or if you’re strong to know when to give up. There will never be a right or wrong answer. Either way, any decision you make will need enormous courage. Taking a step back often helps to give a clearer view of what’s happening and what you need to do next. 

2. Build a healthy routine.

There really is no success without a healthy mind and body.

Seek professional help if you have to and make sure to build a healthy routine. That means eating nourishing meals, drinking enough water, exercising, getting enough sleep, meditating, doing art, meeting your best friends, and soaking up on sunshine and nature. Treat yourself to an almond croissant if you have to. Life can be daunting after making such decisions. Remember to always take care of yourself. Then get down to business. 

3. Start planning, get creative!

Going into the details in planning can be an absolute game changer.

Leaving without a backup plan is not the ideal way to do it. Having a plan will help you feel less anxious and more secure in making that final leap.

Years in medicine can make you feel like you’re equipped with no other skill and know nothing else but medicine. That’s not true. To figure it all out, you need a pen and a blank page. Or a huge whiteboard because it’s going to be intense planning!

On one side, list all your interests. Everything, from as long as you can remember. The ones you had forgotten you had as a child, things you’ve looked up on the internet, hobbies that you’ve felt not good enough to make into a career, ideas that you love but think are too far fetched. Anything that flicks a switch.

Next, list down everything that you’ve done. Employment, voluntary work, things you do for fun, things you did at school, competitions, courses, sporting events, passion projects, even the ones that didn’t work out.

After that, list the causes you’re passionate about. Things you’ve wanted to change or see a change in the world. Things that move you. From mental health to the environment to health equity.  Ask yourself how you can be part of the solution to the problems out there in the world.

Finally,  list down what you want out of a career and your non-negotiables. Money, work-life balance, the kind of experiences you want, the kind of commitment you’re willing to give, the goals you want to pursue, the kind of jobs you see yourself in, how you want your retirement to look like, and the kind of stability you want.

You will realise that you’re much more than medicine.

The possibilities are now endless. Spend a good month or two putting everything together and researching all the directions you could take. Ask yourself why you want to achieve what you’ve intended to. More often than not, you’d make a wiser decision that way.

4. Make a resume and figure out cover letters.

It’s always worth spending a little extra time crafting an application that can hit the right notes.

Now that you’ve gotten a pretty good idea of who you are, what you’ve done, what you’re capable of and what you’re passionate about, you’ll know what kind of jobs to look for if you do leave medicine. You’ll even know what to pick up as a side hustle if you decide to stay. 

Start with an account on Canva and draft a resume. One-up yourself and have a few versions of it for every potential career direction you’ve identified. A quick Google search can tell you the dos and don’ts of resume making. Sign up for a workshop on MF Malaysia for added help! 

It’s important that you highlight your accomplishments and offer what you can bring to the table.  You probably haven’t realised how accomplished you are until you craft a sentence out of it. Keep your resume neatly designed and limited to a page. Don’t forget your cover letter. I overlooked that a lot at first, mostly because I was in a rush to apply to as many vacancies as 24 hours allowed. Write a  cover letter that is honest and personal. I find being upfront with your experiences and challenges but optimistic about where you see yourself is a good start.

Don’t play yourself down, you’re more capable than you think.

5. Network.

It’s all about personal branding and marketing yourself to the people that matter.

Networking platforms like LinkedIn are your best friends and informational interviews can do wonders, especially if you’re leaving medicine for a more varied, non-traditional career pathway. Set your LinkedIn profile up better than you ever did on Myspace (or Facebook). Actively look up people doing what you want to do and send connection requests with a note expressing interest. Ask if you can have a little conversation with them on what they do. Continue asking questions on how to get ahead, what you need, how you can upskill, and who else to connect with. Before you know it, you’ll be the prime candidate on your next application. It also helps you to figure out the realities of your intended career path and what you want and don’t want out of it. 

Consider seeking out career coaches as well. Kisah Siswa by TalentCorp is a good start. Dr Evgenia Galinskaya is another coach who helped me realise that leaving medicine isn’t as limiting as I once believed. Alternatively, you can look at our list of career coaches on MF! I find that they offer a clear sense of direction and can help you figure your plan out objectively. Having someone to discuss your plans with and get an expert opinion on lightens the pressure a little. 

Stay motivated!

Everything beyond this point requires actively applying what you’ve learned and shooting for that opportunity, be it job applications or further education. It really is alright to take time perfecting strategies and finding a job. The process adds a lot and you’ll realize you’re better at branding and marketing yourself compared to when you just started. You’ll also find that unlike medicine, a career outside medicine isn’t as organized. You don’t progress onto the next level after a set number of years training or after doing professional papers. You’ll suddenly be acutely aware of self-development and constantly improve to stay ahead of the game, and that’s alright! Remember why you left medicine in the first place, and use that to keep yourself motivated.

Leaving medicine can be a life-altering decision, but it can be extremely rewarding.

I’ve come a long way since leaving clinical training. From the most unbelievable of experiences to the most supportive people I’ve met along the way, all of which would have been impossible had I not left medicine. 

Interested in finding out more about alternative careers for doctors? Check out our career guides and find inspiration from our case studies. For those based in Malaysia, you can sign up for updates here, and follow our MF Malaysia Instagram and Facebook pages to stay updated on our events, webinars, job vacancies and more.

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Victoria Navina

Victoria Navina is driven towards policy and practice-changing public health research, and is a strong advocate for mental health, aiming to make the conversation surrounding it louder and unrestrained.

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