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Physicians' 4 Steps to Career Satisfaction


Are you considering a change in your practice? Here are four steps to help you achieve career satisfaction.

Are you asking yourself how you will thrive in the era of the Affordable Care Act? Maybe you are thinking about selling your practice. Maybe you are exploring concierge medicine. Maybe you are considering a non-clinical career.

This is a big decision and the stakes are high.

Few people get what they really want by chance. You are most likely to achieve career satisfaction when you have clarity about what’s most important to you.

I know that this is obvious. Yet a recent humbling experience demonstrates this simple concept is far from easy to execute.

My family is making a physical move from Seattle to Minnesota. This involves selling my house and buying another in half way across the country.

I thought I knew exactly what I wanted in a new home. As I looked at houses for sale online, my eyes were drawn to vintage homes filled with charm and dark built-ins.

I found a realtor in Minnesota and described my dream home. She organized showings and I flew into town with the intention of making a purchase.

As the realtor took me from home to home, I was increasingly unhappy.

Had I chosen the wrong realtor who did not understand me?

The truth is that the realtor showed me homes with the exact features I put on my priority list.

The problem was that I did not know what I really wanted. I thought I knew. However, thinking and wanting use different neural networks. Thinking about what you want is like tasting music or feeling colors. Wants reveal themselves through experience.

My thinking brain was unhappy about issues I had not considered or anticipated. Vintage homes were built on tiny lots. I like gardening and my opportunities would be limited. I value my privacy, and you could wave to the neighbors on either side through the windows. Then there were unexpected costs. In Washington State the seller pays for title insurance; in Minnesota the buyer pays.

The bigger concern came from my dissatisfied feeling brain. My gut told me something was wrong. These messages are like the warning lights on the car dashboard. What was happening under the hood?

As I entered the houses, the first thing I said was, “It’s so dark!” In the 1920s, windows were expensive, so most of the vintage homes have limited natural light. Plus the dark built-Ins I found so attractive in the pictures made houses feel even darker.

Through the exercise of standing in houses and listening to my gut I realized that exposure to natural light is my highest priority. Natural light helps me achieve my desired feeling state.

Now my realtor and I could get somewhere. She showed me a wonderful house that felt like home the moment I walked in. I bought it, and can’t wait to move—even though I’m moving to Minnesota in the middle of the winter!

My realtor’s ability to help me get what I really want made her a rock star in my eyes. I’ll recommend her, and help her become even more successful.

Your practice setting, like your home, is the structure that houses the activities that bring you career satisfaction. Some environments nurture you while others drain you. As you consider your next professional steps, here’s what I learned:

1. Identify what’s most important to you. Here are some questions that may help you:

• What things do you like best about your current practice setting?

• What are the factors that contribute to a great day at the office?

• What drains your energy?

• What do you value most? Financial security? Autonomy? Work-life balance?

• What are your true financial needs?

• Are you willing to learn new skills to attract and retain more patients?

2. Find a professional who can help you explore all of your options. In my case it was a realtor. In your case it might be your financial advisor or CPA, a practice management consultant, or an expert in non-clinical careers.

3. Go kick the tires. If you are thinking about converting to a cash practice, spend a half-day with someone who made that transition. If you are thinking about selling your practice to a hospital, sit down with a physician in your specialty who is now an employee of that hospital. If you want to retain an ownership stake in your practice, identify the most successful private practice physicians, invite them to breakfast and ask them, “What’s the key to your success?”

4. Listen to your gut. If you have a nagging sense that something’s not right, respond as you would to the warning lights on your car dashboard.

There is no perfect practice, just as there is no perfect house. However, with some effort you can create the practice that’s perfect for you.

Vicki Rackner MD, President of helps physicians thrive in the era of the Affordable Care Act. She calls on her experience as a practicing surgeon, clinical faculty at the University of Washington School of Medicine and entrepreneur to help her physician clients achieve the personal, professional and financial rewards that attracted them to a career in medicine. You can reach her at (425) 451-3777.

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