Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Which Non-Clinical Career if Right For Me?

Author: Mehul Sheth, DO FAAP

For my first post I thought long and deep about the path that led me to my non-clinical career and I fell back into what I told all my students when I orientated them as they began a pediatric rotation with me-that success in medicine (or outside of medicine) is only partially taught in any formal way in school. This is true for almost every field, but particularly for medicine. I estimate that only about 60% of what got me where I am (an exceedingly rewarding job, a family that I love spending time with and time to actually do just that) came from formal teaching. The other 40%? Well that’s what I hope to go through in my blog.

Once I knew that I wanted a non-clinical career, the harder question emerged-which non-clinical career path to choose? Dr. Kim has eloquently expounded on the idea that there’s no one “non-clinical” job, but rather an assortment of opportunities that take advantage of your medical expertise, whether you are a graduating medical student, recent board eligible residency graduate, young board certified attending, or even the veteran of years of clinical practice. Choosing the right non-clinical career is very similar to choosing the right residency. Like residency, a non-clinical job is not a destination, but rather a pathway into a different knowledge base. Like residency, the hours can be long, in many cases 60-70+ hours. Like residency, the pay for the first few years can be quite modest. However, unlike residency, you haven’t spent the last 4 years experiencing and evaluating the different options.

So how do you determine which line is best for you without spending another 3-4 years in a role that you may not enjoy? I’ve heard about 50 different answers to this question, but most of them are not reproducible. There’s always the medical student who went to work on an Indian reservation only to collaborate with a world-class research doc and his career in research was set. Really, that’s a true story. Barring the unique story into a highly-satisfying job, all we have are learning habits that have high-yield results. In this case, knowing which non-clinical career you will enjoy starts by doing the things you enjoy now, as simple as that. As a medical professional, time is the most precious commodity, and those things that you are willing to spend time doing in those few remaining hours called free time can give you a deep understanding of what you might enjoy doing as a career. But even that can be deceiving because we may spend time on hobbies that require shorter time commitments over those that we really love. I loved private piloting, but haven’t been able to keep up my license as you need a good amount of hours to stay proficient.

The next best thing? Books. All books, no matter what the subject matter, take up the same amount of time to read, you can stop and start as your time dictates and the topics are truly endless. As physicians it’s safe to say that we have some interest in reading, or we probably wouldn’t have gotten to this point in our careers.

Personally I wasn’t that fond of reading growing up. That role fell to my sister who went on to major in English and is now a successful technical writer for medical companies. I became more interested initially in the year that I took off between undergraduate and medical school. Over the last 12+ years I’ve read books of all subjects, almost all of which have some angle that intersects with medicine.

Some are obviously medical related:
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

and some not so obvious:
Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity
The Millionaire Next Door: Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy

I will be taking you through a variety of books over the next few months and I recommend that you find one or more that pique your interest, pick them up from the library and give them a spin. I predict that this will go a long way towards answering your question of “which non-clinical career is right for me?”

About the author: Mehul Sheth is a Board Certified Pediatrician who works for Allscripts, a leading Health IT company. He has designed and delivered social media strategies for varied medical organizations. He is also an award-winning clinical teacher and holds positions for both local and national AAP committees. He loves spending his free time with his wife and three kids. He can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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