Plan your career before illness strikes

Medical Forum sees doctors with all manner of career needs from career choice to retirement planning, from career change to career diversification. Doubts about one’s career can emerge at odd times in even the most on track one, but doubt about one’s suitability for a career can be a significant cause for worry. If this is of a chronic or cyclical nature it can be damaging to health. Two such situations are - fundamental career mismatch and pace of work mismatch.

Career mismatch

This most often surfaces if not at medical school then shortly after. However, some doctors feel under so much pressure to continue ( from others or themselves) that they force themselves. But at what cost? When a fundamental mismatch exists it is possible to experience ongoing and, at times, distressing career anxiety or depression. This is worsened by the fact that medicine is such a vocational degree it is hard to envisage oneself doing anything else, and others may (erroneously as it turns out) corroborate this. Career mismatch is not something someone has done wrong - it just happens. Ideally, with extensive career guidance (not just before leaving school but during the university years), this would be uncovered and alternative solutions found. However this level of career support is simply not available to medical students. Yes, there are careers departments but, with the funding of the medical school dependent on the students remaining in place, there is little if any incentive to help people look objectively at their career decision making.

Career mismatch can also appear to present later when a person's priorities change, but in this case it is usually that the career was a good match but things have changed; whilst the career and person may be well matched still in some respects, overall they want something different now to what they wanted ten years or so earlier. There is also a possibility that career mismatch was present early on but was just not spotted or acknowledged. It is worth pointing out here that you are entitled, of course, to change your mind; your career is not an episode of Mastermind - 'I've started so I'll finish'.

Pace of work mismatch

Pace of work mismatch on the other hand can arise in a previously well-functioning medic, as well as also presenting in some people early in their career. It can affect doctors who are otherwise good at what they do, or who like many aspects of their work, but when the expectations or demands rise to a certain pace they start to feel ill at ease and suffer overload.

So a doctor can be suited to the overall work of being a GP, but find that when the pace or content of the work goes above a certain level their health begins to suffer. Of course, this can be very difficult to control as one is so often not in control of the pace of work. The good news is that some modification of the career through shifting to a more portfolio style of working, and combining general practice with something where the pace of work is 100% under your control, can often make a much more balanced week. For some, the change may need to be a total shift, but for others even one day a week doing something where they feel more in control is enough to shift that niggling concern. It is also about feeling that one has choice.

In summary, career doubts are normal but if they are pervasive, recurrent or starting to affect enjoyment of life, it is high time to tackle them. The situations of career mismatch and pace of work mismatch are real causes of ill health in doctors. Being proactive is the key, rather than drifting along thinking it will get better; if you do wait and your health suffers, it is harder to career plan from that position. Things might well get better by themselves, but time spent in career planning is rarely wasted and can be fruitful even in careers that are well-matched. Career planning does not necessarily mean career change, but it is definitely about looking carefully, objectively and positively at how one’s work is "fitting" overall into life.

Sonia Hutton-Taylor's ebook 'Prepare to career plan' is available for download at Sonia is the founder (1990) of Medical Forum Career Management


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