A Future for Doctors Outside of Medicine

When I applied to medical school, I had every intention of being a primary care doctor. I wanted to provide care for those with less access to medical care. Heck, I even wrote about it for my personal statement.

I started my first year with the most zeal and enthusiasm I’ve ever had for school. By the middle of my second year, I began to regret my decision to go to medical school. In my third year, especially during my family medicine rotation, whatever passion for medicine I had left completely died.

Medical school killed the joy of medicine. With more bureaucracy, increased amount of middlemen between doctor and patients, and greater amount of regulations, I do not see a bright future for clinical physicians. Self-autonomy will continue to shrink. Job dissatisfaction (and paperwork) will continue to grow.

Right now, in the middle of my fourth year, I cannot decide what I’m gonna do for my future. Do I practice medicine or do I do something else?

To find an answer to my question, I turned to my trusted source, Google. I wanted to read about doctors who did something different. The mavericks. The trailblazers. The crazy ones. The people who are not afraid to march to the beat of their own drums.

I wanted to read about medical students who did not go on to residency. About residents who dropped out of residency. About doctors who quit medicine. I desperately wanted to know … what did they do after leaving medicine?

There aren’t many doctors who did something different. That is why whatever few stories I can find are so precious.

I was lucky enough to stumble across a doctor who successfully traveled on the off-beaten path for several years now: Dr. Mudge-Riley.

Dr. Mudge-Riley

Dr. Mudge-Riley

If you are one of many people who is dissatisfied with the healthcare system and want to explore a future away from clinical medicine, I wanna give you an awesome gift — an interview with the good doctor. She was kind enough to share about her experience.

If you’re even thinking about a life outside of medicine, you do not want to miss this interview.

Interview with Dr. Mudge-Riley, DO

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

I’m a physician career mentor / coach. I help other physicians (peer-to-peer) with their career strategy and planning, to help them maximize their happiness with work, avoid burnout, and diversify their skill sets in case they want to pursue a non-clinical career in addition to, or as an alternative to, their clinical career.

2. How did you get into your line of work? Did you know exactly what you’ve wanted to do? Or did you wing it?

I didn’t plan for this, that’s for sure! I had wanted to be a doctor since I was in fourth grade. But even though I was successful in medical school, I didn’t see the “end goal” of being a doctor as exactly how I wanted to spend the next 40 years of my life. After a few years of struggle to figure it out, I realized I really needed a physician mentor in my life who could help me know and understand all my options, because it was really hard to figure it out by myself. Therefore, I formed the company, Physicians Helping Physicians, as a way to help other doctors.

3. Why didn’t you get a clinical job and follow in the footsteps of most of your peers?

In medical school and residency training, I saw a lot of unhappy and angry physicians. I realized I was starting to feel angry and unhappy with the culture of medicine. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life feeling that way or subjecting all those around me to that. I was becoming a not-very-nice person.

I was also really confused. On top of everything else, I also really wanted to understand the “big picture” of healthcare and medicine, and I didn’t know exactly how to figure that out. I had no idea what else was out there, but I really wanted to find out. (I figured it was worth trying, at least.)

4. How did you deal with the doubt, if any, of taking the road less traveled?

It was scary, that’s for sure. Most of my medical friends thought I was crazy and my family did too. But I was the only one who had to live my life and I couldn’t live for other people. The unhappiness motivated me — I just couldn’t live that way. I refused to be that way.

5. Are you happy with the decision you’ve made?

There will always be some “what if” in the back of my mind, but my life has taken a complete 180 degree turn. I am very, very happy and satisfied with my life and career. I have work life balance, but I probably work harder than I ever did before. But it really doesn’t feel like work to me. I also feel like I am truly serving others since I’m able to be the “Doctors Doctor.”

6. How do you find your clients? Or how do your clients find you?

First, I write a lot. I have a website and a book. 

Second, I speak.

Third, through word of mouth. Much of my work comes via referral — other doctors I’ve helped, who then tell their friends and / or colleagues about me.

7. For a newly graduated doctor, how likely is it for her to get a non-clinical job? Is there any non-clinical job that you would recommend?

It depends. No longer is a degree a “golden ticket.” It’s all about networking and the “hidden job market.” I’d recommend talking to as many people as you can and really listening to what others are doing and have done.

I’d also recommend taking a job strategically. What I mean by that is, use any job you do as a way to get into your next job and towards your next goal. Try not to do something that doesn’t move you forward towards your goals. You may not reach your dream job for a long time, but as long as you’re working towards it, you’re on the right path.

8. What advice would you recommend a medical student who does not want to go into clinical medicine? How can she best succeed financially and emotionally?

What is success, really? It’s being happy with what you’re doing, and serving others while making enough money. Explore all your options. Don’t be ashamed of how you are feeling and the fact that you want to do something non-traditional or non-clinical. Find others (and eventually mentors) who are living the way you want to live your life and doing things you’d like to do, and ask them questions.

As an aside, interestingly, someone in a non-clinical career can actually be more financially successful than someone in a clinical career.

9. Why did you choose to do an internship, rather than doing nothing or completing a full residency?

I wanted to be completely sure I wasn’t just unhappy and dissatisfied with medicine because of medical school. I thought that working in medicine would show me the complete picture. I was hoping for a different (and thus, better) perspective than the one I got through school.

But after realizing that working in medicine wasn’t the answer, I chose to take a job in the industry rather than completing a full residency because I didn’t want to waste any more time. I didn’t see how completing a residency would help me explore what else was out there.

10. If you can do everything all over again, would you make the same decision? If not, what would you do differently?

I don’t regret going to medical school. With that being said, I wish I have pursued an additional degree (like a business degree or an MPH) during medical school. Instead, I got a business degree a few years after becoming a doctor. However, that degree was not a magical ticket to the perfect future. I still had questions and uncertainties. That is why I wish I had explored the possibilities outside of medicine while I was still a medical student.

11. Is there anything else you would like to share?

I’d like to share a few resources to help medical students, residents, and doctors who are reading this:

First, feel free to visit my website for free resources: http://www.phphysicians.com.

Also, here’s another free website by another non-clinical physician: http://www.prnresource.com.

Finally, this is a book with stories of 25 doctors who have all done something non-traditional: Physicians in Transition: Doctors Who Successfully Reinvented Themselves.

Concluding Thoughts

If you feel dissatisfied in the medical field, your feelings are not as uncommon as you may think. Many students, residents, and attending physicians feel the same way.

You can leave medicine, if you want. You can still be successful, if you choose to leave. Just look at Dr. Mudge-Riley.

Are you turning your back on medicine? If so, you may feel like you are alone. You may feel like you are a failure. But, you are not. Leaving the field could turn out better than you have ever thought possible. And here is why you should get out …

This article is part of the Money in Medicine series. Click on the link if you want all the money-making secrets available to doctors.

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