A roadmap for physician career transition planning

Many physicians will decide they want or need to make a transition from the practice of clinical medicine to “something else” at some point during their career. Whatever the motivation for their job transition, most doctors appreciate a rational, structured process that enables then to get from where they are to where they want to be. Fortunately, there are some easily accessible resources that can add value to your work/career decision-making process.

Career assessment for the physician-in-transition

John Holland developed the most validated and widely used system for matching people with jobs that fit their interests, abilities, values, and personal style. Holland’s “RIASEC” model describes six different work styles:

  • Realistic (“Doers”). People who have athletic or mechanical ability, prefer to work with objects, machines, tools, plants or animals or to be outdoors.
  • Investigative (“Problem-solvers”). People who like to observe, learn, investigate, analyze, evaluate, or solve problems.
  • Artistic (“Creators”). People who have artistic, innovating, or intuitional abilities and like to work in unstructured situations using their imagination and creativity.
  • Social (“Helpers”). People who like to work with people to enlighten, inform, help, train, or cure them or are skilled with words.
  • Enterprising (“Persuaders”). People who like to work with people, influencing, persuading, performing, leading, or managing for organizational goals or economic gain.
  • Conventional (“Organizers”). People who like to work with data, have clerical or numerical ability, carry out tasks in detail or follow through on others’ instructions.

By determining which of these six work styles are most similar to you, you can generate a range of good-fit jobs for further exploration.

You can do this by completing an online career survey (at minimal cost) such as the Self-Directed Search and the Campbell Interest and Skill Survey. Here are examples of how these work styles align with various jobs, both within and outside of health care:

The “investigative” physician

Preferred work environment: laboratories, libraries, universities, research facilities; work best alone or in a team with clear separate duties; like achievement-oriented, intelligent and logical co-workers

Health care-related jobs: pure and applied medical research, biotechnology, health technology R&D

Non-medical jobs: biologist, chemist, computer programmer, geographer, geologist, mathematician, physicist, science teacher, systems analyst

Organizations: American Physician Scientists Association, Biotechnology Industry Organization

The “social” physician

Preferred work environment: prefer to work with others in the service of other people or improving society; like a harmonious work milieu with consensus decision-making; dislike conflict or power issues

Health care-related jobs: medical/health education, public health professional, health care advocate

Non-medical jobs: consumer advocate, human resource professional, legal aid attorney, minister, psychotherapist, teacher, training/development specialist

Organizations: American Public Health Association; American Association for Health Education, Medical Advocacy Project

The “enterprising” physician

Preferred work environment: prefer a hard-driving, well-organized, results-oriented milieu focused on achieving bottom-line results; prefer a leadership position from which to organize others and receive high compensation

Health care-related jobs: physician executive, health-related sales, health care entrepreneur

Non-medical jobs: business executive, entrepreneur, sales/marketing professional, public official, realtor

Organizations: American College of Physician Executives

The “realistic” physician

Preferred work environment: outdoors, labs, factories, shops where one can work with their hands, wear casual clothes and be with familiar people; like to work alone or in teams to produce things using structured procedures; like to work with people who “do it right the first time”

Health care-related jobs: bioengineering, medical device design/fabrication

Non-medical jobs: engineer, skilled trades, farmer, athlete/trainer, forester, physical education, security professional

Organizations: American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation, Medical Device Manufacturers Association

The “conventional” physician

Preferred work environment: structured, stable, orderly office environment with clear rules and policies; work well alone or on a team with clearly defined duties

Health care-related jobs: health care process/quality improvement, electronic medical records/informatics consultant, medical billing specialist, health care database manager

Non-medical jobs: accountant, financial planner, computer programmer, banker

Organizations: Institute for Healthcare Improvement, American Medical Informatics Association

The “artistic” physician

Preferred work environment: unstructured places with wide latitude for self-expression; work best unsupervised where product quality is valued over quantity of output

Health care-related jobs: medical illustrator, technical writer, medical journalist

Non-medical jobs: actor, advertising, architect, author, chef, artist, film director, interior designer, journalist, musician, photographer, playwright, sculptor

Organizations: American Medical Writers Association, Association of Medical Illustrators


Physicians who are contemplating leaving clinical work will benefit from engaging in a structured process that involves clarifying their dominant work styles and then exploring a range of high-fit jobs/careers both within and outside of health care. This process will enable them to build a work/career transition map that can provide the confidence and focus needed for the successful pursuit of their next professional endeavor.

Baird Brightman is a behavioral scientist and can be reached at his self-titled site, Baird Brightman PhD.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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