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Career Paths: What’s Next?

September 26, 2013
by Tim Tolan
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If you're still passionate about what you do for a living—great. If not, this could be a good time to re-evaluate your career.
Tim Tolan

I’ve recently talked with several candidates who hold senior level HCIT leadership roles and are beginning to ask themselves the question I pondered almost nine years ago: what’s next? After all, you spend approximately 2,000 hours each year doing what you do. Are you still having fun?

According to last year’s U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the average American will live to the ripe young age of nearly 80. Today’s life expectancy is twice what it was 150 years ago and continues to move north—a good thing. You’ve no doubt heard that 50 is the new 40 (and so on...), and there are many encouraging medical breakthroughs giving us the hope that with good health we will be around on this earth a bit longer. All good—if you’re enjoying your career.

A personal note: I opened my search practice in 2005 after spending more than two decades in the HCIT vendor business asking myself, what’s next? In my 30s and 40s I never thought about working for myself, but that all changed just a few years later, and while I pondered what I wanted to do, I also began plotting and planning my next move. Once I made the decision to forge ahead, I openly admit that deciding to start my own business was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made. At first, it was very scary and there were many sleepless nights worrying about all of the “what ifs.” As I write this column, however, I am very happy with my decision. Today, I look through the windshield with hope and enthusiasm and no longer constantly check the rear view mirror with fear. I also understand that entrepreneurship is not for everyone. I get that.

You clearly have lots of mid-career options to ponder. The easy one is to keep on doing what you do today (as long as you enjoy the work and find it rewarding). The key here is not to convince yourself that you are happy just because of the economics. You need to have real passion for what you do for a living each day when your feet hit the floor. If by chance you’ve “lost that loving feeling”, it may be time to do some pondering of your own. You are not alone.

The great news is that you have lots of mid-career options that were not available in your rookie years. Here are a few tips to help you answer the question:

Make a move in your own organization. I’ve witnessed CIOs moving into operations or to other leadership positions in healthcare. If you are in middle management today, perhaps you could make a change into another area of your HCIT organization. Communicate your feelings with executive management about other positions that interest you and you feel you could transition into.

Talk to people in your network. Communicating with contacts in your professional and social network is a great way to find out what’s new and exciting in the HCIT industry and helps you start networking your way to the people who make decisions about talent. Get to know people working in the sectors that excite you and ask around. There is a good chance you probably already know people who have the right contacts who can help you do your diligence. The HCIT vendor world is littered with lots of former hospital CIOs in some (very) cool niche sectors.

Think about your transferable skills and how they relate to a new career and sector that excites you. Some sectors are a bit easier to transition to, while others can be more challenging. If you have great organizational and leadership skills there should be plenty of opportunities where your skills would be welcome. The job market, while still a bit weak, is poised to improve in the near-term; and when the economy picks ups, I predict we are in for a major shift in hiring—one full of opportunities. Taking some time now to think through your options is probably a good idea.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure it makes you happy, as that is the real key to your decision-making. If you are on the other side of contentment, you need to get busy re-evaluating what it will take to make you happy. One thing is for certain: the hours, days, months, and years will continue to tick away.

Tim Tolan is senior partner at Sanford Rose Associates-Healthcare IT Practice. He can be reached at or (904) 875-4787. His blog can be found at