Is medicine right for me?
Elements of medicine are fantastic but others can be upsetting or frustrating. At any point during your medical career, you may ask whether medicine is really the right career for you. You would certainly not be in the minority. This may be because there’s something you enjoy more which medicine is preventing you from doing or just because you’re fed up with certain aspects.
Firstly, it’s worth noting that whatever your source of dissatisfaction, no career change is going to immediately solve this. It’s easy in a moment of frustration to think “screw this, my life would be so much easier if I became a (insert ‘dream job’ here). The reality is every profession will have its own upsides and downsides and switching career will involve a significant amount of work. Identify your fundamental sources of dissatisfaction and consider whether you can improve the situation or whether it will change in future as your career progresses.
On the other hand, you mustn’t feel obliged to stay in medicine for fear of leaving. Staying in any job for this reason is not a source of long-term satisfaction. Leaving medicine can seem like a daunting task, particularly if you’ve been on that pathway for a long time, it’s what your friends and family expect, and it’s such a ‘safe’ career path.
If you’re seriously considering leaving medicine, the most important thing is to do your research. Here is some introductory information and first-point-of-call resources.
Broadly, there are three routes you can take:
- Find a clinical practice that suits you. For example, if you desire flexibility, the “E-ROAD” specialities (ENT, radiology, ophthalmology, anaesthesiology and dermatology) allow doctors good control of their time spent working.
- Find a non-clinical, medically-related job, such as scientific research, medico-legal work, teaching, public health, medical communications, medical entrepreneurship and medical management consultancy.
- Find a job unrelated to medicine, which can be pretty much anything, although some have greater overlap of skills gained from medicine than others.
I won’t explore these in depth here but there is lots of information on the internet on what each job involves and many forums discussing previous doctor’s experiences of the transition.
The best resources which consider career route more broadly are:
The 80,000 hours career guide (https://80000hours.org/career-guide/) – 80,000 hours (named after the average number of hours in a person’s career) are a non-profit organisation who provide advice on career selection and have produced this excellent practical guide which can be viewed as a video series, in blog posts or as an eBook. They have also written a careers guide on Medicine from the point of view of making a positive contribution to society (https://80000hours.org/career-reviews/medical-careers/). Interestingly, its conclusions on the positive impact of clinical practice weren’t as favourable as you may expect and they suggest a few other related careers which may enable larger impacts.
‘Do you feel like you wasted all that training?’ by Michael McLaughlin is a book that specifically addresses questions about making a career transition out of medicine. It is aimed towards a US audience but offers lots of sensible and pragmatic advice from someone who made the switch from clinical practice to medical communications quite late in his career (aged 33).
So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport is a book written for a more general audience which presents a road-map to finding a career you love. It’s an entertaining book that is well supported with evidence and can change your perspective on looking for fulling jobs.
“Don’t be a donkey” (https://sivers.org/donkey) – this short blog post by Derek Sivers outlines a very useful way of thinking about careers, of particular relevance to anyone who is worried about not having enough time to all the things they want to do.
Ultimately, leaving medicine isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. It’s also a highly personal decision. If you have doubts, the best approach is thorough research and pragmatic consideration of your options. If you do all the research and still decide to stay in clinical practice then you will only be better off for doing so.
During a period of uncertainty, it is worthwhile to develop fundamental transferrable skills. Being able to learn faster, think more clearly and communicate more effectively will help no matter what career you end up in. I hope that this book provides you with a springboard to improve these skills and create a career that you love.
BONUS CHAPTER 2 SUMMARY
- You may question whether medicine is for you. Identify the source of your dissatisfaction and consider if it can be solved.
- Don’t stay in medicine purely out of fear of the unknown.
- Research different career options thoroughly before making the change.
- Develop transferrable skills in the meantime.
Continued in Bonus Chapter 3.
This is a chapter from The Modern Medical Student Manual. A full list of chapters are below:
- Introduction: From That Day To This Book
- Chapter 1: Medicine from Fifty Thousand Feet: Perspective, Targets and Limits
- Chapter 2: The Fundamentals of Fast Learning - Part 1 and Part 2
- Chapter 3: Mastering Clinical Medicine - Part 1 and Part 2
- Chapter 4: Increasing our Impact (and the power of Self-Education) - Part 1 and Part 2
- Chapter 5: A Scientific Approach to Research - Part 1 and Part 2
- Chapter 6: Commanding Clearer Communication - Part 1 and Part 2
Plus Bonus Chapters:
- Bonus Chapter 1: If Medicine Gets You Down
- Bonus Chapter 2: Is Medicine Right For Me?
- Bonus Chapter 3: Memorisation Techniques (by Dr James Hartley)
- Bonus Chapter 4: Learning from Others in Medicine