Scrap the Roadmap and buy a Compass

I truly hate contradicting my own words of advice, but that’s exactly what I did recently while speaking with a client. I told her, “you’re looking for a roadmap to follow, when in reality you should simply be using a compass.”

As I made that statement, I realized how many years I’ve used the “Roadmap” analogy, and that it actually isn’t the best descriptor for physician career change. Here’s why, since the moment you decided you wanted to be a physician, you followed a roadmap. It was a very detailed roadmap with no side-trips, and barely even an exit ramp. Everything from the courses you needed to take in high school, undergrad or pre-med and on and on, it was all mapped out in front of you. And, today, when you begin to embark on your transition to a nonclinical career, you again want a roadmap to follow.  

The problem with your roadmap is that it is unbending, unyielding. Your roadmap will make you do things you may not want to do. Rather than a roadmap, think in terms of a compass. A compass allows you to set a course, but also to detour, to take the backroads, to experiment and try new things, while always telling you where you are relative to your overall destination.  

That is how you approach transitioning into a nonclinical career. You should sample different options and consider different venues to use your skills, knowledge and passions. Let me give you an example. Many physicians tell me they want to be consultants. I was speaking with a seasoned ER physician recently who told me he could help hospital organizations establish more efficiently and effectively running ER programs. A “roadmap” for this physician would likely be a straight line path towards ER consulting companies. Frankly, that makes sense.

However, using a compass, he might start moving towards ER consulting companies, but along the way, stop in his hospital’s own administrative suite and ask about their strategic perspective on the development of Emergency Services. He might also contact some rural hospitals and inquire if their emergency services are as successful as they wish or expect. He could also contact the American College of Emergency Physicians and learn what programming they offer for ER development and he might be able to  participate as a “expert” resource. The list goes on…. If he can develop emergency services, how about shifting just a bit to emergency preparedness for a community, or for a large company, or internationally…. You see what happens when you put down the roadmap and just use a compass? This physician never lost the focus of ER consulting, but he expanded his options exponentially while always moving in the right direction. 

I’m a great fan of the Corps of Discovery. Their stories can thrill me to no end. But, when Lewis and Clark set out on their epic adventure, they basically had a compass. They knew they needed to go west to reach the Pacific Ocean. However, if you track the actual path they followed, it is a circuitous route. They followed their instincts, made some great choices… and frankly a few bad ones. However, the breadth of experience and knowledge they gained was invaluable.  

When you decide it’s time to embark on your career transition, you certainly need to have an endpoint to set your compass towards, but don’t limit yourself by too narrow a focus. Be open to some exploration and in the end you’ll make a much better vetted decision about your ultimate destination.