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Epic Career Moves

October 4, 2010
by Joe Bormel
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"Many a false step is made by standing still."

Epic Career Moves: " Many a false step is made by standing still. "

Today I’m presenting my follow-up reflections on the SEAK conference, which focused on physician career transition. ( My pre-conference descriptions and links to presentations are here.) A career transition process is a 5-step process, according to Michael J. McLaughlin, MD, ( www.PRNresource.com) who was one of the faculty members in the pre-conference workshop. Although the conference focused on helping physicians make a transition to non-clinical careers, the steps appear to be relatively universal:

1. Introspection – What do you want to do with your life and where are your true talents?
2. Exploration – What's out there, both career and business opportunities?
3. Preparation – How do you get moving?
4. Acquisition – What do you need to do to move forward to completing the process?
5. Transition – How do you execute the actual transition?

I suggest you review a graphic that expands on these steps, which is contained in McLaughlin’s book pictured above, “ Do You Feel Like You Wasted All That Training? Questions from Doctors Considering a Career Change. ( http://www.prnresource.com/about/)

The conference wasn't only about totally changing careers. About ten percent of the attendees I met were looking to enrich themselves professionally by adding a non-clinical component, without an interest in or need to stop practicing.

Part of the pre-conference course included a discussion based upon a self-assessment tool called the Birkman Method. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_typologies) The majority of the attendees I talked with found this personally accurate and useful. Self-awareness of one's needs during the introspection step can be an essential pre-condition for entering the exploration phase.

Sign of the Times: The number of physicians interested in career changing paints its own picture. About 300 folks attended the conference. Well over a thousand have attended in the last few years. The interest level this year, in terms of calls and emails to the conference coordinator, was twenty times the attendance level; most who did not attend said they regretted not being able to take the time to participate in person. Well, there are options, more than any blog can or should try to cover. One is the McLaughlin book. It's 200 very fast-read pages and about $20. Most of us could start and finish it in one airline flight.

(photos above from Dr McLaughlin's presentation at SEAK)

The second option is the Babitsky and Mangraviti book, also pictured above, “ Non-Clinical Careers for Physicians.” ( http://www.seak.com/displaycategories.html) Although it’s a bit longer, the intent and accomplishment produce far more complete coverage of the topic. In 12 chapters, the authors cover an exhaustive set of issues, from those outlined above, to strategies, resources and checklists, and the biggest mistakes to avoid. It is excellent, simultaneously exhaustive, yet succinct. If your learning style is to go deep, this book is unquestionably for you and well worth the price. (Before you ask, it's available for Kindle and the Kindle app.)

My Mentoring at SEAK: During the two-day conference, I served as a mentor, offering 15 minute sessions both Saturday and Sunday. The sessions filled quickly, and I met privately with 49 individual physicians. This was concurrent with over a dozen other mentors and a number of HCIT employers as well. I had 25 session slots per day, as did the conference attendees. So they could explore any number of potential career paths, or focus on introspection or acquisition issues with the mentors.

For example, on the introspection front, I discussed mid-life transition (formerly mid-life crisis) issues. Examples of acquisition mentoring including detailed, on-the-spot resume reviews with attendees who requested my input.

When I shared this experience with a few of my colleagues, they responded with, " That must have been exhausting!" Actually, it was energizing. Each physician was uniquely interesting, bringing a variety of questions to the table, and in half the cases, trying to practice the networking and mentee (recipient of mentoring) skills they had learned earlier at the conference. The mix was impressive, about a half dozen ED docs, the same number of surgeons, and the rest a mix of family practice, internal medicine, OB/GYN, pediatrics, and other specialties. One physician was a year into his first residency. The rest were evenly distributed between 35 and 55 years old, with an equal gender distribution.

My time at SEAK, talking with and listening to members of the faculty, other mentors, and the physician attendees leads me to my final reflections; the importance reading, writing and arithmetic in contemporary career transitions.

Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic: The importance of reading is self-evident to anyone reading this blog. In our “CrazyBusy” worlds (see my blog, " Want to go faster? Use the brakes MORE!“), the first thing that goes for busy physicians is keeping up with reading, especially outside of their clinical specialties.

I often include in my presentations recent, relevant information from the Wall Street Journal or the Harvard Business Review. On numerous occasions, a practicing physician in the audience will come up afterwards and say something like, “ It must be nice to have time to read." It's said with sadness and sobriety, not sarcasm or condescending deprecation. Reading is one of the first luxuries (literal necessities) to go when time is crunched.

Writing is not so obvious to many. It's important to write. This point was made by multiple faculty members at SEAK. Although personal writing directed to an individual or small group through email plays a role, articles, presentations, blogs and even books for the most ambitious are important to hone your skills. They're important if you're contemplating starting a business. They're important to develop and include on your resume. Most of the SEAK faculty and mentors have extensively demonstrated their commitment to writing. But only a dozen of my mentees demonstrated their writing competency. To the others, the career importance of writing was a surprise.

Arithmetic is probably obvious as well, but worth a few words. The math of minimal necessary compensation, as well as subjective factors is an important part of introspection and evaluation related to career transition. With the exception of those in complex private practice, physicians have little exposure to finance, benchmark salary data, or the related planning. However, most members of the SEAK faculty agreed that while getting an MBA can an asset, it's generally not necessary. What you need to know are the business basics. The one exception, noted by the conference organizer, Steve Babitsky, is an executive MBA from a top school. This may be a required rite-of-passage for a few career objectives, such as being a senior executive for a multi-billion dollar organization with a culture that demands such a credential. But this applies to less than one percent of us!

Summary and Conclusions:

1. There are great resources out there to help with career transition. SEAK publications and conferences are great examples. As I've tried to communicate in this post, some of the skills, knowledge and talent necessary to make a transition require a moderate commitment, both time and effort. For many physicians, an exit at any given point in time is too high a barrier.

2. There are five distinct phases to a career transition (above). Coaches, mentors and new friends (a growing network) are essential to each phase. The phases require time, energy, resources and a sense of urgency. Expecting less will lead to frustration . . . and potentially be futile.

3. There's a psychological trap involved in the move from clinical practice to a non-clinical career. For most physicians, the career path leading to clinical practice represented a form of success. For them it's too often natural to implicitly confuse a non-clinical career as a form of failure. For other physicians, the trap takes a different form.

There's a story in the Farson and Keyes book, “ Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins,” about football legend Deion Sanders. His fame and fortune progressively led Sanders to despair. In his memoir, " How Success Nearly Ruined My Life," Sanders wrote, " When I achieved every goal I could think of, I was right back where I started. Empty, empty, empty, and nothing I did could touch that deep loneliness inside me." Later, in their discussion of the dark side of success, authors Farson and Keyes point out that " past success can blur our view of the horizon (i.e. the future in front of us)."

(photo from Dr. McLaughlin's presentation as well on the theme of waiting )

If you’re considering a career change, don’t stand still merely pondering it. Seek and you shall find . . . insight, guidance, and answers. Persevere. Make the time to learn and decide what’s best for you. Perhaps you’ll find attending next year’s SEAK conference will help you to resolve your frustrations, clarify, and achieve your goals.

This Post:
Epic Career Moves – Step Six – "Many a false step is made by standing still."
[Quick Link to this post: http://tinyurl.com/29ykd4x ]

Prior Post on this topic:
Epic Career Moves – Step Five – SEAK And You Shall Find
[Quick Link to this post: http://tinyurl.com/248hpgm ]

 

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