Switching Careers


This is a post somewhat of an extension to a recent one about what it means to be physician – or not be one.

The argument is that, there is a bunch of medical doctors out there that would want to switch to a different job, yet it’s really hard to do so.

Whenever a physician switches jobs and turns away from the medical profession, the public, the parents, the friends – they all don’t get it. Why would you give up the reputation, a good salary and being paid for saving peoples lives? Indeed, medicine is an honorable and highly respected profession.

Now imagine you are in the midst of your residency and decide that you don’t want to pursue a medical career – at lest not a “classical one”. You tell your spouse or best friend and usually they’ll flip out. Interestingly, you won’t see the same irritated faces if you had studied business and wanted to leave accounting or even law and wanted to quit being an attorney – but that’s another matter. People expect you to be working in the field of work you were educated in – and that’s not good. In most European countries you have to decide which education you want to pursue at the age of 18. Seriously, at the age of 18, where you have drinks, fun and girls or guys in mind, you have to think about such a crucial and long-lasting decision – that’s ridiculous. With the American college and grad-school system in education the “point of no return” gets pushed back some years, yet still it doesn’t solve the basic problem of (too) early decisions. When you start going to med school you probably have a certain picture in mind of what a doctor does. Of what medicine entails and what the ramifications of med school are. Statistically your dad or mom is a physician. If you eventually decide to pursue a medical career, during the first several years (typically pre-med), NO-BO-DY never, ever actually tells you what it’s like to work in a hospital (i.e., what it feels like). You study the basics of chemistry and pathophysiology, but you’ll never hear about work hours, compensation and how the insurance system works.

This is not supposed to be a rant against medical school or being a physician. It’s rather supposed to be tiny pamphlet that deciding too early in your life what you want to do for the rest of it might not be very wise. It’s also important to always remember that it’s never to late to switch. This sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

A colleague of ours went to med school, then went into pharma until he became medical director of a big pharma company and then decided to start a residency in oncology. It may look awkward starting your residency at the age of 45, but this guy knew everything about the pharma business. He was able to pull in research money easily, he knew a lot about clinical trials, about governmental limitations, transnational studies and epidemiology. His expertise must have been great for the other residents there. We love such “against the current” people and careers. Such people change industries, act as role models and usually have radically different views and opinions compared to the ones who stayed at the exact same job for the last 15 years or more.

If you believe you are one of them, then go ahead and read why you might be underestimating your options.


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