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How To Evaluate a Potential Career Change in Medicine

How Physicians Can Effectively Evaluate Potential Career Moves
Domenico Castaldo/

Have you ever struggled with the decision to leave a job or change groups? Leave a practice/group? Why did you struggle and how did you decide?

Change is Hard

Being lulled into comfort and complacency is part of human nature. A prime human need is certainty, and a stable job ticks that box nicely.

Statistics note the current generational labels more easily flex to change, mobility, and novelty – it is my generation and before that often cringe at changing lanes. The majority of my residency classes are still working at the same place nearly 20 years later. Indeed, my father’s generation dropped anchor in a job and waited out many a storm before retirement appeared on the radar. This is not so for millennials, as data reports that many do not see themselves staying at the same job one year from now.

Change is hard, but when done for the right reasons, it can be positively transformative.

Anticipation or Perception

Human nature draws many eyes over the neighboring fence in anticipation of a greener pasture or more enticing playground. The perception of gain, equality, reward, adventure, camaraderie, (you fill in the ____________) produces curiosity and opens the mind in the exploration of possibilities. While the delicious energy is inviting, it’s essential to pause and take an honest inventory of one’s motives.

Frankly, I’ve leapt out of the pan into the fire on several occasions. I feel fortunate to have developed ancillary tactics to survive, and I would encourage you to do so too.


-Why you want to leave?

-What are you hoping to gain?

-Are you running from something and selling yourself short?

-What professional and economic cost will leaving have?

-How will a job change affect your family?

-Is this a long-term change or a stepping-stone?

-Are there any non-vested accounts you will forfeit?

Promises vs. Realities

Medicine is a full-on sales game. Doubt that? Think of how you present data and options to patients. You are at the core – selling – selling your idea and opinions based on medical knowledge, experience, and preference.

The same applies to the negotiator at the end of the phone or conference table. You are being sold to. The new group or position will be presented in pristine fashion. An articulate and skilled HR professional will color the language to assuage your worries. One must listen with a critical ear to catch what’s not being said.

Step into the arena prepared and also pause to shuffle back a few paces and fully evaluate what is on the table. Is there room for more?

Knowing Your Why

A large part of the above discussion centered on the WHY. Knowing your why is critical. and having a solid grasp going into any potential job change will give your soul peace. The temptation for a quick win, bigger salary, more responsibility is tempting. At the end of the day, we all must live with our decisions and the fallout for those we love.

Seasoned physicians more likely have the full game plan in hand. Many of the residents or newly minted attending I’ve talked with recently are focused on a battle plan and damage control with little thought of the five or fifteen-year plan. This brief diatribe does not blanket all specialties, but there is a definite ebb and flow of life in the medical sphere and failing to plan for the end game with an exit strategy is a recipe for heartbreak.

Know the Number Soup

In a previous article, I shared how quickly thousands of dollars can be pulled from your account. A critical component of any job change must involve a competent ally versed in the numerical soup of investment and retirement plans. Having a solid hold on what will happen to any part of your nest egg will save headache and heartbreak.

There is no easy path to a career change. Having a clear understanding of why it is time to leave and what gain is available in a new position will smooth the mental hurdles.

Recently I found my finger poised over the send button. My better-reasoned wife watched the process unfold and brought me back to core principals. With some focused dialogue and unearthing of long-term goals, many questions surfaced.

What was the full commitment to this healthcare startup? How would this unfold over the next 12 months or two years? Can limits and definitions be brought to light? Potential pitfalls and nebulous terms were highlighted in the contract, mostly from her insight, as I’m prone to let excitement briefly cloud my judgment.

In the end, I declined. Sleep was never so comforting that night.

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About Mitchel Schwindt, MD

Dr. Mitchel Schwindt is a board-certified emergency medicine physician who practices in a variety of clinical settings. He completed his residency at Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As part of Michigan State University, Butterworth was renamed Spectrum Health, and is one of the busiest level 1 emergency and trauma centers in the United States. He served as chief resident his final year. While there he was inducted into Alpha Omega Alpha, a prestigious medical honor society. He also devoted a significant amount of time working as a flight physician (helicopter) for an aeromedical company.

Dr. Schwindt has served on many committees and steering groups related to health care, quality and process improvement and was a former trauma program medical director. He serves as a volunteer physician for local sporting and martial arts events. He is a consultant and medical advisor to several dental groups and has developed protocols and policies related to medical issues in the dental practice.

Wellness and nutrition are a passionate interest for Dr. Schwindt. He writes extensively on the subject and has published several related books. He is a member of the A4M – The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine and is currently pursing a functional and sports medicine fellowship.

In his free time, he enjoys competing in triathlons, skiing, water sports, time with family, foreign travel and pursuing entrepreneurial activities.

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