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Epic Career Moves - SEAK And You Shall Find

September 23, 2010
by Joe Bormel
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Step Five–SEAK and you shall find

The Event
This weekend, I’ll be participating in a SEAK conference in Chicago on the topic of non-clinical career progression training for physicians. SEAK has been in business for 30 years, has trained over 20,000 people, and among them, over a thousand practicing physicians. The instructors have successfully migrated to non-clinical careers, the more common payer, provider, pharma, consulting and vendor sectors, but also to politics, government, finance, and the arts, literature, and recruiting worlds.

My Role
I was on faculty last year and presented healthcare informatics career opportunities, with a focus on related corporate roles. My presentation incorporated notes and tips on the differences in skills, knowledge and talent required in HCIT as compared with clinical careers. Career management, including understanding and exploring opportunities, is more important than ever given that clinical careers are changing wildly. See Mark Hagland's excellent piece on this topic. My 2009 observations and related presentations are available here:

Epic Career Moves - Step One (contains 2008 Informatics presentation by Dr Tonya Hongsermeier)
Epic Career Moves - Step Two (contains my 2009 presentation)
Epic Career Moves - Step Three SEAK 2009 observations
Epic Career Moves - Step Four - AMIA Edition (contains another presentation)

This year, I’m honored to be participating as a mentor. I will be posting my observations after the conference.

So, Why Did I Choose to Pursue a Clinical Career?
My interest in becoming a physician followed a common theme during the 1970s. I was intrigued by the opportunity to have a career that concurrently combined a) problem solving in the scientific realm, b) helping people, c) having a high degree of workplace autonomy, and perhaps an implicit desire to d) achieve an extra measure of societal acceptance.

Loved going to work: There are, of course, multiple ways to do any and all of those four. That said, my volunteer work at Maryland's Shock Trauma Unit during my undergrad program cinched it. I loved the drama, the acute care and the esprit de corps amongst the clinical team. I loved the patients and their families. In short, I loved going to work.

The dark side of practice: But as I began clinical clerkships, as I did my residency and subsequent fellowships, I saw the huge, recurring problems. Things that should happen in a systematic, reliable fashion didn't always happen that way. There was a lack of integrated, clinical information systems, of course. There was also a lack of procedural systems. There were no checklists that were shared, performed as a group, or published as best practice. There was an absurd reliance on human memory and human tenacity. In short, I was uncomfortable going to work, in part because I wasn’t confident the delivery systems where I worked could function reliably. Every time a patient took an unexpected turn, I asked myself, as every physician does, did I miss something? There was no safety net.




Excellent, meaty discussion of the SEAK Nonclinical Careers Conference, Joe. You have painted a realistic picture of what physicians can expect to confront and then get through as they begin changing careers.

Fortunately there are many resources available to help with this transition process, as you mentioned.

As the physician who transitioned other clinical practice many years ago into business that I now love, I can attest to the effort AND the hugely satisfying reward :-)

Philippa Kennealy MD MPH CPCC PCC
The Entrepreneurial MD

Thanks for the interest and kind words, Doc Benjamin and Frank.

You'll find my follow-up notes from the SEAK conference here:

Epic Career Moves — Step Six — "Many a false step is made by standing still."

Great piece... as I learned many years ago about career changes, even job changes, you always want to be going to something, not running from something.

Thanks Howard.

My undergraduate training did include electrical engineering with a heavy dose of computer science and systems theory. And that does help with my understanding of HCIT.

The sales side is probably worth just a little more elaboration. As you obviously know, I spent a couple of years as a sales engineer at Hewlett-Packard. At that time, HP spent a full year training their incoming "class."

Aside from the formal training on contracts, leasing, territory management, selling and negotiation skills, something else happened that was far more implicit. I was coached and mentored by probably a dozen managers, in addition to my peers. Most of the folks at HP were smart, smart, smart. I'm sure the same was true of our major competitors, including IBM and DEC. Many of our clients had a lot to teach as well.

I suppose I got used to entering new careers relatively early in mine. Now, everyone is doing it!  Coaching and mentoring, whether on the providing or receiving end has always been essential to my health and growth.

Thanks for your comment.

The blog was great to read. I am only a little surprised that you don't mention the extra talent you bring by having a EE degree and working the sales side. You are uniquely qualified for what you do.

Thanks Philippa. It was a pleasure working with you both as faculty and fellow mentors.

You exemplify that it's the human touch, whether in clinical medicine or non-clinical careers, that adds the greatest value.

Dr. Bormel,
For whatever reason, I knew nothing about SEAK until reading your blog, and I went back to read all of your posts from last year. This conference is something that I find very interesting.

To be honest, I'm at a crossroads, trying to make some important personal decisions. As a hospital employed physician, I still enjoy providing care for my patients and interacting with them and their families. I believe my work is important. But I'm also very senior, and I find that an ever increasing amount of my time is being spent on administrative tasks and in related meetings, many of which are unproductive. It's all very frustrating.

Therefore, I'm contemplating a change, although I must admit, after all these years, change is at least unnerving, if not outright frightening! I could use some guidance, more than merely perusing the Internet. SEAK appears to be a venue that could help me to make an informed decision. I was not able to attend this year's event, and am sorry that it occurs only on an annual basis.

Therefore, I am looking forward to your next post so that I can at least gain a little traction toward formulating a personal plan for my professional future.

Doc Ben