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Top 10 Tips for a Successful Career Transition


Many physicians plan to transition out of clinical practice into non-clinical careers, including education, administration, consulting and communications. Here are my Top 10 tips for surviving the transition successfully.

As much as I love working with entrepreneurial physicians, I recognize that many physicians plan to transition out of clinical practice into non-clinical careers that don't include starting their own business.

Yes, many fantasize about being their own boss, with all the tantalizing flexibility and autonomy. However, the realities of a drop in income, lack of time, and lack of business knowledge and experience wreak havoc with their dreams. And fear doesn't hesitate to show its pinched face too!

Instead, these doctors who are hungry for a change in direction seek out new physician career opportunities in a number of other less risk-prone areas, such as:

  • hospital and clinic administration (strategic planning, operations, credentialling, physician relations, process improvement, clinical quality, etc.);
  • health plan medical directorship;
  • medical communications-- written, spoken, entertainment, and journalism;
  • medical and physician education;
  • pharma;
  • biotech;
  • medical device development;
  • clinical trials;
  • health information technology;
  • consulting, working for organizations such Accenture, JCAHO or Siemens;
  • coaching, working for organizations such as The Studer Group;
  • corporate wellness and health coaching ...

... the list and possibilities are huge.

How then can you make and survive the transition successfully to your non-clinical career?

This list is based on my own experience (as a doctor who changed careers a few times!) and that of the many physician clients I have coached over the last eight and a half years:

  1. Physician career change takes planning, patience and time -- so start early, develop a plan, and break your bigger goals into a series of manageable action steps that can be undertaken a little at a time.
  2. Be willing to invest in furthering your education (an MBA is not the only path!) to boost your knowledge and skills and to get the support and counsel that this transition may require.
  3. It is imperative that you know yourself -- your lifestyle needs; your personal values; your life goals; your sense of purpose; your skills, talents and preferences; your wants and desires -- to choose well.
  4. It helps enormously to have an open mind, the courage to ask bold questions and a sense of humor.
  5. You must know how to network and how to communicate your desire to make a change in such a way that your future intentions are understood, good introductions are made, and resources mobilized to help you.
  6. This includes learning how to capitalize on the wealth of help available at your fingertips on the Internet -- social media tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook can be marvelously efficient ways to connect to key players in your desired career area.
  7. You need a well-crafted physician resume that speaks to your accomplishments and can be adapted flexibly to several possible situations. Put the CV aside for now, unless your goals are strictly academic -- you can pull it out later, if asked.
  8. Learn the skill of informational interviewing -- find out about industries, companies, positions that have some appeal, while communicating that you are not pitching yourself for a job. While doing that, become an excellent listener -- be paying attention to the ways in which you can give, to provide value unasked. In doing so, you'll invoke the Principle of Reciprocation!
  9. Involve your personal support system in your planning. Many a physician career move has been thwarted by an irate spouse or kids who are devastated by the thought of an imminent move. Avoid the "reflex naysayers" -- those self-appointed people whose job it is to throw cold water on your belly's fire. And, simultaneously, pay attention to the wisdom of others who know you very well, or who've made the move and have insights to share.
  10. Remember, regret is a bitter pill to swallow on a death bed. Or, as Joseph Campbell put it: "Follow your bliss." You are not obliged to live your life in a satin-lined coffin. Discover your passion -- and give it your best shot!

By the way, here's the full Campbell quote, which I love: "If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are -- if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time." This is so true -- it's how I now experience my life!

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
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