Guest Post: 5 Steps to Help Pick the Medical Field that Suits You Best
Guest blogger Dr. Jonathan Kaplan is a board-certified plastic surgeon based in San Francisco, CA and founder/CEO of BuildMyBod, an online marketplace for healthcare services.
I promised myself I would never be that doctor!
Imagine you’re the son or daughter of a physician. You’re about 10 years old and you join your physician-parent one day for lunch in the doctor’s dining room at the hospital. It’s the medical version of “Bring Your Son or Daughter to Work Day.” It’s a chance to get a surprisingly good meal and spend some quality time with your parent and their colleagues in white coats. As you’re sitting at the table, eventually, without fail, one of the other doctors at the table will ask you what you want to be when you grow up. Reflexively and honestly, you say, “I want to be a doctor.” No sooner are the words out of your mouth than another physician tells you what an awful idea that is.
I guess there are a couple things wrong with the doctor’s statement. First, why would you attempt to crush a 10-year old’s dream? Second and maybe more importantly, you wonder, if that doctor is so miserable with their job, why don’t they do something else? Regardless, that’s when I swore I would never be like that doctor. I would pick a career in medicine, and…the right field within medicine. The latter is a little more difficult.
Choosing The Right Field For You
Keep in mind that whatever made that doctor so unhappy with his career choice was way before the Affordable Care Act, ACO’s and before EMR’s. Well before physician employment/loss of autonomy and even before reimbursements were at an all-time low. So what did he have to be so miserable about? We’ll never know for sure but since we know it wasn’t any of those issues detailed above — those didn’t show up for another couple decades, it probably had to do with hospital bureaucracy (that’s always existed), long nights or just the exhaustion of saving lives.
Just as that doctor didn’t know how much worse things were gonna get, I had even less of a clue as a 10-year old. So when I started going to the operating room with my father at age 11, my plan to be a surgeon was even more cemented. Then at 16, I observed a plastic surgeon perform a skin graft and knew I wanted to be a plastic surgeon. That was the extent of my observations. Reimbursement, difficulty of residency, EMR, level of patient appreciation didn’t factor into my decision at all.
I made a decision without adequate information…but that’s not the problem. I made the perfect choice for me, but only out of shear luck. I didn’t know enough to make that decision then, nor after medical school or residency. I really didn’t know the whole story of what healthcare would be like in practice until I got there.
Even though you won’t know everything until you experience it for yourself, there are a few steps to help determine your chosen field within medicine. Here are five of them.
5 Steps To Hone In On What Medical Field Fits You Best
1) A gut feeling of what you think you would enjoy is a good start but not enough unless you simply get lucky
2) Talk to doctors in your considered field but include those in private practice, employed by a health system or in academia
3) Ask those doctors what they like and dislike about their positions: EMR, compensation, politics, too much focus on business or marketing?
4) Based on their comments, don’t focus on what you would enjoy about that field; rather, focus on what you wouldn’t enjoy about that job.
5) If there are too many aspects about that field that you can’t stand but you still like the field overall, find a niche within that field that avoids those pitfalls; or shift to another field entirely
Obviously that still may not ensure a perfect match, but all is not lost. I’ve noticed that after the first few years of practice passes by, the proverbial honeymoon period ends, and doctors start to think about their future. They may still enjoy or even love their job, but they become more comfortable with their position. Their learning curve isn’t as steep. They’re more efficient with their time.
This is the point where doctors’ insatiable drive encourages them to seek out other intellectual pursuits in addition to their medical career: committees, hospital administration, entrepreneurialism, local medical society, politics. You may pick the perfect field for your personality but as you mature, you may gravitate towards other interests. The addition of these other interests and activities will either augment your existing career or pull you towards another career altogether. Regardless, the point is to end up happy, unlike that miserable doctor that exists in the doctor’s dining room, attempting to crush a 10-year old’s dream!
Dr. Jonathan Kaplan is a board-certified plastic surgeon based in San Francisco, CA and founder/CEO of BuildMyBod, an online marketplace for healthcare services.