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Your trusty columnist Dr Lucia Gannon raises some interesting points in her column in this issue. If the Medical Independent has been placed face-down on a table somewhere and you’re ambling through The Dorsal View, her musings on page 24 are well worth a read.
It got me thinking — if you weren’t a doctor and could choose any other walk of life to pursue, and if it’s assumed that you had the time, means and circumstances to do so, what would your alternative career be? I’d love to hear from you through the email address at the bottom of this page.
A survey by the publication Medical Economics back in 2000 touched on this and provided some interesting results. When physicians were asked the question ‘If you weren’t a doctor, what would you be?’, many of the responses were fairly predictable, while some were not.
For example, a desire to help others was a common theme, with some nominating ‘teacher’, ‘psychologist’, ‘counsellor’, ‘priest’ and even ‘alternative medicine practitioner’ among their answers. A number of doctors also have an interest in law and this was evident in the responses. Taking into account the attitude of many doctors to lawyers, perhaps this is a desire to become ‘poacher turned gatekeeper’. One doctor responded: “Lawyers earn more money and the government isn’t regulating their practice”, while another said “it is a fascinating profession that needs honest people”.
A career in finance was the alternative job route for some, with one doctor stating, “bankers’ hours and exorbitant pay look good to me”. Many expressed a desire to go into business, without actually having a specific idea of what line of business they would like to pursue.
But, in common with most other professions, doctors have romantics and dreamers among their ranks. One doctor expressed his desire to be a NASCAR driver, while another said he would like to be a “clothes designer or serviceman”. But my personal favourite is, “a dancer with a solid trust fund”.
Naturally, many aspire to careers in the arts, such as writer, artist or musician. “Music is more fun,” said one doctor. “Musicians are always smiling, especially jazz musicians.”
One anaesthetist revealed how he “almost became a policeman”, while another expressed a desire to be an FBI agent, “because similar thought processes are involved in solving medical and criminal problems”.
However, when one doctor was asked what he would like to be if not in medicine, he simply replied “God”. I’m open to speculation as to what his specialty and grade were…
If you did decide to cast off the shackles of a career in medicine, what would you miss the most? Surely not the pharma-sponsored pens, notebooks, memory sticks and other accessories, as they seem to have sadly dried-up.
As a follow-up question, the doctors who participated in the above survey were asked what they would miss most if they left the profession. The answers were more predictable and included:
‘Touching and truly helping so many families.’
‘The intimacy of patient care.’
‘The mental challenge.’
‘The independence that is rarely found in other professions, plus the ability to change patients’ lives with available therapies.’
‘Having enough time to teach interns and residents.’
‘Making my mark on my community.’
‘Using my schooling and knowledge to help others.’
‘Honour and respect in society.’
‘Patient contact, patient contact, patient contact.’
But again, I have a personal favourite:
‘Watching the health insurance companies collapse while I was still in active practice.’
Alternatively, you could just sit tight for a while and ‘put a pin’ in your career change plans. A 2014 Medscape study showed that a reasonable amount of doctors plan a career change at, or close to, retirement age.
Known as an ‘encore career’, this involves doctors aged approximately 55 years and presumably financially secure taking up something they have always loved, albeit for lesser financial rewards. This often involves becoming a painter, musician, writer or anything that involves working outdoors.
If you’re in one of the specialties that is most prone to burn-out — emergency medicine, critical care, anaesthesiology and surgery — this could be something worth thinking about down the road.
Wing and a prayer
Three guys are fishing when an angel appears.
The first guy says, “I’ve suffered from back pain for years.” The angel touches the man’s back and he feels instant relief.
The second guy begs for a cure for his poor eyesight. When the angel tosses his glasses into the lake, the man gains 20/20 vision.
As the angel turns to the third fellow, he instantly recoils and screams: “Don’t touch me — I’m on disability!”