How to Energize Your Career or Change It Completely

A colleague one town over died recently. After 50 years, he had a huge practice.

His patients say that he often called them on Sundays with results. He loved medicine.

He saw 40 patients one day and died the next.

Doctors used to work until they got too blind or dull to carry on. Seeing more patients was the best way to shake off malaise and stay energized. It gave instant rewards, decent pay and didn’t feel like work most of the time.

Today, old docs say that young docs don’t want to work. The old-timers are partly right, but for the wrong reasons.

Very few doctors can survive old-time clinical medicine: 60 hours a week for 50 years. Modern clinical medicine has too little medicine left in it.

Doctoring used to mean seeing patients.

Now, doctors spend almost equal time typing charts, “billing” for non-billable things that track “quality” and otherwise stick handling through regulations.

A few, rare doctors love making long clinical notes. For most doctors paperwork is like broccoli for kids: We hate it but it keeps us out of trouble.

Today, doctors who try to energize their career by seeing more patients end up burned out.

Energize Your Career or Change it Completely

The secret of a long, happy career in medicine is diversity. Old docs had it partly right: Hard work does keep you strong and sharp. But doctors need more than just more work. They need something that doesn’t feel like the work they do now. Here are some options.

If you want to diversify or change careers completely, you need a plan. You could jump at the first job posting, but a map will increase your odds of success.

Anatomy of a Career Change

A. Embrace reality

Create an honest inventory of your professional life.

Make a list of what works and what does not. What inspires you?

Then, and this is hard part, let go of what does not work. It is hard to admit that what has consumed most of your life no longer works, especially if it defines who you are.

You will need to process strong feelings: guilt, anxiety, confusion. Let it go, but do not quit your job yet. Celebrate the beginning of a new phase to your career.

B. Scope your change

Do you need a small change or a big one?

A small change takes less time and resources. It adds variety to your clinical work and might inspire you for a few years. Then you can change again. After a few small changes, each cycle tends to get shorter.

Eventually, you will consider a major change. These changes take time, up to 3 years.

C. Find your purpose

What do you want to achieve in the next phase of your professional life? How will your work make a difference? What is your purpose?

Write it down, in one sentence.

I want to ________ through _________.

For example, you might say, I want to change the healthcare system by running for a seat in parliament.  

D. Assess your resources

Do you have support from your family? Do you have time to explore options? Could you retrain, if required? How are your finances, social supports, physical, spiritual, and mental health?

Estimate the cost, before you jump in.

E. Give yourself time

Expect to spend a morning a week, for up to 6 months, just to explore your options.

If you plan to develop a replacement for your clinical income, give yourself 18-24 months, or more, to explore, train and reshape yourself into an ideal candidate for whatever career you want to pursue.

Some people spend decades working towards a goal.

F. Determine your unique skills

You might consider using a formal career aptitude test. There are many (Here’s one example).  Create a list of the values that define you.

Combine your purpose, unique skills, values, and passion with your support network. Then explore the marketplace. Find spots where you – your unique set of resources – will fit.

G. Take action

You’ve made a plan. You’ve reflected and explored for 3-6 months. Now, you need to take action.

Create SMART goals. Update your CV. Speak with recruiters. Retrain if necessary.

Be patient but take action.

Most doctors want to start with Take Action.  This approach works when you haven’t been considering a change. Someone asks you to be Chief of your department and you say, Yes.

But if you want an intentional change that explores all opportunities, you cannot ignore steps.

Don’t skip the inner work, the time required to reflect on your values, passion, purpose and unique skills. This is hard work. Do not rush or leave medicine too soon. A career coach can help you through this process.

Normal, healthy careers develop and change. Getting a license to practice medicine and then seeing patients for 45 years without doing anything else is unusual.

It’s unhealthy for most doctors. Patients benefit from doctors who bring other experiences to the bedside.

If you are considering our conference on Non-Clinical Careers, please sign up before the end of February. We need to finalize hotel arrangements based on crowd size. With enough people, we should be able to create the right atmosphere and break even.

Doctors used to fight fatigue by staying busy. They ignored questions about meaning or fulfillment by seeing more patients.

In most of Canada, that option no longer exists.

Seeing more patients leads to even more charting and lab work. As soon as doctors sit down, they remember how exhausted they feel. Then they wish they were at home with their families.

The secret to energizing a modern clinical career is diversity. Develop interests parallel to your clinical work. What are you waiting for?


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4 Replies to “How to Energize Your Career or Change It Completely”

  1. Lovely and thoughtful essay Shawn. As you know I have done several career changes, and mostly with hasty enthusiasm. I would counsel following your wise advice!

    1. Hey Ross,

      Great to hear from you! Now, we need an essay from you on what you would have done differently to get to where you are now.

      I hope you are well. Really great to see you reading and leaving a comment. Actually, it makes me a bit worried about all the other things I’ve said here. 🙂

      Thanks again,


  2. The effort and thought you put into the piece is so obvious. You even gave us links to make it easier to look further. As you know, Shawn, I retired last year because I was so angry at the government’s disrespect and treatment of physicians. I did not take up another career but I have managed over the year to throw myself into various pursuits that interest me. I feel that I also will find the information you presented here useful in guiding me as I move forward. Thank you so much for all you do for your colleagues.

    1. Thanks Gerry!

      Even though you are ‘retired’, you seem to busier than ever. 🙂 I sure appreciate you taking time to share some encouragement. This post garnered the most private feedback I’ve had in some time. Sounds like doctors felt a need for it.

      Talk soon,


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