a traveler atop a mountian and looking into the horizon
a traveler atop a mountian and looking into the horizon
a traveler atop a mountian and looking into the horizon

Exploring New Opportunities As Physician

Explore career transitions in medicine with Dr. Varun Verma's guide for physicians at all stages. Learn to leverage your skills and network strategically for new opportunities.

By: Varun Verma, MD

Published: Feb 20, 2024

📂 Physician Perspectives

Written for:

✅ Early Career Physicians

✅ Mid Career Physicians

✅ Established Professionals

I’ve written previously about changing specialties during residency, and how challenging that can be. Later on in our careers, while we may not be contemplating a different specialty, many physicians are interested in exploring other areas to branch out into as a side gig or as a career pivot. Exploring new endeavors after a certain tenure in any field of medicine can be a daunting task. I myself, having been a hospitalist for over a decade, will occasionally go on Indeed or LinkedIn jobs and view side gigs outside of hospital medicine in fields like telehealth and utilization review. Many postings seem to have demands like “5 years experience required” or “medical licenses in at least 10 states,” and at first that is very discouraging. (because I only have active medical licenses in four states and very little experience post-residency in primary care or telehealth). Before I give up and don’t hit the apply button, I ask myself whether I can present my skills in a fashion that would be attractive to potential employers. 

As a physician, you've likely honed a unique set of skills and amassed a wealth of experience that, at first glance, seems hyper-specialized. I often joke with my wife and friends that I couldn’t do anything outside of hospital medicine at this point. Yet, the reality is that our backgrounds have provided us with a versatile toolkit, ripe for a myriad of opportunities beyond our immediate area of expertise. The challenge, however, lies in navigating the transition, especially when facing industries or roles that may not immediately recognize the transferability of skills. Here's how you can leverage your experience as a springboard into new arenas.

1. Identify Your Transferable Skills And Highlight Them

The first step in pivoting your career is to identify the skills that can be transferred to your new desired role. Never forget that as a physician, you possess critical thinking abilities, problem-solving skills, a strong work ethic, and the capacity to work under pressure in life and death situations—qualities that are highly valued in many fields. Additionally, your experience in patient care equips you with exceptional communication and empathy skills, making you a strong candidate for roles that require high levels of interaction and care, such as in telehealth or patient advocacy roles.

It's simple to dismiss our daily activities as trivial or insignificant in our own thoughts. I still find myself occasionally thinking “I’m just a hospitalist…” My suggestion is to take a pen and paper and genuinely document your work experience, and as a third party would - list out your strengths in every specific position you've held. After doing this, attempt to dissect the individual tasks you executed, the interdisciplinary team you collaborated with, the technologies you became proficient in, and the broad applicability of such skills.

2. Bridge the Gap Through Education and Training

While your experience as a physician is invaluable, pivoting to a new career might require specific knowledge or certifications that you currently lack. Gasp! I know, after having done a 3-7 year residency now you have to do… more training?! Sometimes we have to be objective and identify the gaps in your training that are holding you back from making the leap. One may have to consider pursuing additional certifications or courses if your background isn’t getting you the opportunities you desire. For example, if you're interested in helping patients with weight loss and building your own brand or private practice, perhaps it’s worth the investment of completing a certification from the American Board of Obesity Medicine. Online courses and certifications can also bolster your knowledge in areas like telehealth, healthcare informatics, or healthcare management. Additionally, there are a plethora of courses to help you become an expert witness, utilization management expert or whatever you desire.

3. Network Strategically

Networking is a powerful tool in career transitions. The old adage "your network is your net worth" emphasizes the importance of professional and personal connections in contributing to one's success and opportunities. One must be strategic in trying to connect with professionals in your desired field to gain insights and advice. You can start with online professional networks like Doximity or LinkedIn, attend industry conferences, join professional associations, and participate in webinars to expand your network. Don't underestimate the power of social media platforms to build rapport when trying to connect with industry leaders and peers - I see a generous and active physician community on X.com (try some hashtags such as #doctorjobs #physiciancareers #futureofmedicine). Networking can provide you with mentorship opportunities and potentially open doors to opportunities not otherwise on your radar.

4. Be Flexible On Compensation

As physicians we should absolutely know our worth. Nothing makes me more mad than physicians being offered below market rates for work that only they can do because a cartel of middlemen siphon away money (such as staffing companies that keep 20-50% of an hourly rate from employers before paying the doctor). However, making a career pivot might mean taking a step back to gain the specific experience required in your new field. In this scenario it’s not uncommon for physicians to have to take a pay cut when transitioning to a new field. We must think of these entry level positions as a residency of sorts- you’re paid something for on-the-job training. Hopefully as you progress in that role, your compensation improves. In other scenarios however, the compensation in non-clinical fields simply cannot match the income you would have had (say as a specialized surgeon). It’s important to remember that monetary compensation is only one aspect to career contentment. Ultimately, the decision to shift careers is deeply personal and should be made with a holistic view of what career contentment means to you as an individual. For many, the rewards of following a path that aligns more closely with their values and interests, or provides them schedule flexibility, far outweigh the financial sacrifices that may come with it. 

5. Stay Resilient and Patient

Thomas Edison is often credited with the saying that he did not fail 1,000 times while inventing the lightbulb but that the lightbulb was an invention with 1,000 steps. This quote highlights Edison's persistent approach. Transitioning to a new career is a process that requires time, resilience, and patience. You will likely face rejections and encounter skepticism about your lack of direct experience in the new field. I’ve seen physician forums mention how many people faced dozens of rejections when trying to break into Pharma or Utilization Management roles without any direct previous experience. However, like everything in life - persistence is key. Use each experience as a learning opportunity to refine your approach and strategy.

Conclusion

Pivoting to a new career in medicine is not without its challenges, but it's certainly achievable with the right strategy. By leveraging your transferable skills, bridging knowledge gaps, networking strategically, and showcasing your unique value proposition, you can successfully navigate the transition and embark on a rewarding new career path. Remember, your experience is a testament to your dedication, resilience, and capability to adapt—a solid foundation for success in any field.

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Tanya Frias brings over twenty years of financial services experience to Andwise. With her extensive background as a Certified Financial Planner and her dedication to making financial planning accessible, especially in underserved communities, Tanya is a key asset to our team. Her qualifications include a B.S. from the City University of New York, CFP certification from NYU, ChSNC certification from the American College, and she is currently advancing her knowledge with an Executive MBA from Kellogg-Northwestern.

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