Giving Up Patient Care for a Non-Clinical Career

portrait of a blond woman

While clinical practice has worn me down, will I feel lost if I abandon it for a non-clinical career?

On a day when there’s been one snafu after another in the OR, a four hour clinic lasted six, several patients were unhappy, and an administrator 20 years your junior made you feel like you were 12 years old, you start thinking of those far away evergreen hills where there are no patients, you wear a business suit and everyone is cordial. Nirvana; no dictations to tack on to the end of a stressful day, no risk of calls coming to home or worse yet waking you from sleep. Beam me up?

If you have a lot of those days you may head for Nirvana and to your dismay find a hell. A hell of deadlines, budgets, quarterly numbers, job insecurity, hyper-competitiveness, stress because it’s new, stress because it’s stressful – and, if all that wasn’t bad enough, you’re feeling like you really miss taking care of patients, even the depressed, angry, non-compliant ones who may have caused you to head for the hills in the first place.

If you can’t know for sure and certain, are there ways in which you can diminish the odds of having that “oops, I made a mistake moment?”

Absolutely. So, before you jump, consider the following.

1. Act as a response to positive-minded personal aspirations, don’t react to negative feelings or other emotions. Viewing a non-clinical career as a refuge from the demands of clinical practice has an extremely high likelihood of being an error. Elect to pursue a non-clinical care job opportunity because you like medical administration, the pharmaceutical industry, public policy issues in healthcare, or whatever other avenues you choose. Your career should show an evolution consistent with that direction over a period of some years. Bear in mind too, that a skillful interviewer who sees you as an individual running from something rather than running towards a new career opportunity will nix you in about ten nanoseconds. The big deal is in the patient-staff ratios, though.

2. The process of evolving to a non-clinical career (or any other kind of career modification, for that matter), should follow a logical and progressive path. I call it Think, Research, Test, and Compete or the TRTC path. I’ve discussed the first two of these elements in posts of just last week. The remaining two will follow within the next week. If you’ve worked through this process carefully and in sequence, you are far less likely to find yourself looking back wistfully on the good old days.

3. That old adage “Be careful what you wish for”, might also be phrased “Have you considered what you’re giving up?” I’m not here to serve as an apologist for the status quo of contemporary healthcare, but is the physician’s lot quite as bad as it gets painted?
– Try to find another occupation that recompenses you as well.
– No desk job will offer you even a fraction of the autonomy you have right now in setting your schedules of clinics, ward rounds and call.
– Questioning, engaged and informed patients are more rewarding to take care of than the “whatever you think, doctor” brigade.
– We’re in short supply. Not such a bad bargaining chip.
– Our patients’ need of us satisfies a very fundamental human need of our own.
– Add your own contribution to the litany.

4. Be extremely careful not to underestimate the return from taking care of other human beings. I seriously doubt that there are few professional activities where the measure of intrinsic job reward is as high as direct patient care. On my own days of doubt in a long clinical career, I could always shut the door of a room in the clinic, spend time with a patient, and forget about the paperwork or bureaucracy outside the door and the pileup of paper on my desk in my office and my home study.

Think carefully. Move slowly. By all means, move on to a non-clinical career. Just don’t turn out to be a Lot’s wife as a result. Read more about being an RN here.