Let’s get one thing straight: You already have kick ass skills as a physician, skills that are valuable outside of clinical care settings. So whenever my physician friends turn to me for advice on making a transition in their career, I have to remind them: It’s not about learning new skills, it’s about translating your existing skill set to new business applications. Think digital health startup CEO, chief medical officer, health care consultant. It’s all possible, and it’s easier than you think.
First, let’s talk meta-skills: these are the big picture skills you have learned and practiced all your life that you may not even realize you have. These skills have made you successful in your medical career and are also fundamental to success in the business world.
1. You have been trained for leadership. We know the mantra “physicians are the captain of the ship.” In the business world, you’re ready to bring that leadership experience to the table. As you grow in your new career, you will be working in larger and larger teams, but the fundamentals stay the same. The ability to be a leader and work within a team is a key skill that works just as well in the office or hospital as it does in the boardroom.
2. You’re an expert at defining the problem. As physicians, we are often presented with the chief complaint that one of our patients just doesn’t feel well. It’s our job to get to the root of the problem. We learn to ask open ended questions, suspend our previous assumptions, and build a working hypothesis based on the data we collect. This process is no different in the business world. As a health care consultant, I work to gather data, and use that information to analyze market, financial, or operational trends and recommend a course of action. Either way, you already know the fundamentals of root-cause analysis, and that’s hugely valuable in a business setting.
3. You have finely tuned instincts.
Medicine is in many ways still a black box. We know more and more every day about how the body works, but we will don’t have all the answers. Because of that, we are very good at taking a lot of data, filtering out the noise and focusing on the signal. Malcolm Gladwell calls this thin-slicing. Have a patient with normal labs with the exception of a specific abnormal finding? Almost instinctually, we can figure out if that abnormality is a red herring or the key to the problem. That same skill makes us extremely useful business advisors. We can assess whether a proposed solution would work in the health care environment. Would physicians adopt this new technology? How does it impact their workload and workflow? Does it create a better experience for their patients? Does it improve safety or quality? As physicians, we have the expertise to quickly make these assessments, and lots of companies are willing to pay for that knowledge.
Physicians are ideal candidates. The skills we have developed in health care, both by our training and the nature of the job, make physicians ideal candidates for many business applications. If you’re looking to diversify your professional experience, I want you to know: you’re already coming to the table with more than you think.
Sylvan Waller is an emergency physician.
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