The Perfect Medical Career

What are the characteristics of the perfect career?

This is a crucial question I’ve been trying to answer all of my adult life.  Sure, it’s true that I know I am going to become a physician, but what specialty will I pursue?  I’ve heard the same advice picking out my specialty that I had when I was trying to figure out which career I wanted to pursue.

It usually starts with something like ‘you need to figure out what your personality is.’  Then once you know yourself, you can assess your passions, likes and dislikes, and main interests.  Figure out your talents they say.  Find your passion.  Which specialty suits your interests?

The truth is I won’t find happiness using these methods.  Science (I personally haven’t read the literature on this but I have taken people’s word for it) has figured out what people truly want in their dream job.  And I was surprised to find out that it’s only three things…

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery 
  3. Purpose 

This is a huge revelation for me as I am trying to choose my future specialty.  And I think this is an incredible piece of knowledge for anyone trying to choose a future career.

Lets look at my situation.  Becoming a physician allows me to knock out two out of these three career characteristics automatically.  First, I’ll be a master at something.  Whether it be the brain, radiology, or taking care of the family’s medical problems, I’ll be a “master” no matter what my specialty.  Second, my career will serve a purpose.  Doctors, whether directly or indirectly, effect peoples’ lives and their health, which can obviously be very rewarding.  But the last one is the most tricky, autonomy.

I believe it is this last trait that many physicians feel like they are now missing in their practice, and may possibly be the main reason for physician burn-out.  Here are some immediate examples of this that I can think of right off the bat…

  •  – Surgeons at the beck and call of the ER.  Surgeon numbers are always much smaller than their medical counter-parts.  Thus, they usually take call much more often then their medical colleagues.  And by the very nature of their job, they have to take care of traumas and emergencies at all times of the day and night. So, surgeons are usually tied to their hospital.
  • – The doctor that I am shadowing mentioned that he’d love to go on mission trips around the world to help those in need.  But he feels like he cannot, because his nurse, the employees in his clinic, and his patients depend on him to be around.  So, he feels like he cannot leave.  I bet many physicians feel this way.  
  • – Student loans.  Physicians are graduating with some of the most atrocious student loan debt in the world.  When exactly are they suppose to take time off or pursue other interests?  

These are just three examples of the lack of autonomy in medicine.  I suspect there are probably way more.  I also suspect these are huge contributors to burn-out.

Now that I’ve learned this, I am definitely going to be looking into how my specialty choice will effect my autonomy.  Because honestly, that may be the one big factor that is keeping many physicians from being happy in their career.

[Via Study Hacks and TED – Daniel Pink]