Medical Career Strategy Tips – Quo Vadis

Studying medicine has always been a popular career choice for many, with the aspiration to become a physician or surgeon. However, the list of career possibilities for medical graduates is endless. This article will discuss career strategies for doctors and medical students wondering "Quo Vadis?" – where to go from here.

AI drawing of a doctor in front of a path.

Career Paths Beyond Patient Care

Firstly, it's important to note that studying medicine does not limit you to patient care. There is a plethora of opportunities outside of the traditional physician or surgeon role, such as working for international organizations in healthcare, the pharmaceutical and medical device industry, journalism, and civil and defense medical service. Additionally, it's common for medical students to discover entrepreneurial aspirations, using their medical knowledge to create startups and develop innovative solutions to healthcare challenges.

Career Paths in Patient Care

If you decide to pursue a career in patient care, there are various paths. You can work in a community hospital, a teaching hospital, or ultimately in your own clinic. In addition, you might want to go into research. 

AI drawing of a doctor stressed in front of a desk with a stack of papers.

First, however, having a plan and vision for your career is crucial, as it can be easy to fall into a job or position that may not align with your long-term goals. In my experience, I've seen many doctors who end up in the wrong place and then struggle.

But how can you avoid common career mistakes?

Focus on your strengths.

AI drawing of a doctor leaning over a patient.

One of the main reasons for this is the failure to recognize your strengths and weaknesses. Misjudgment can lead to doctors choosing a specialty that does not match their skillset or interests. For example, I remember a surgical resident who couldn't cope with his responsibility in the OR. When posted for surgery, he often found an excuse. Eventually, he suffered from his low reputation and ultimately became depressed. So only become a surgeon or emergency physician if you can cope with stress. In contrast, if you need to improve your communication skills, it might be better to work in specialties where you are not constantly confronted with patients. 

Seek challenges.

Another common mistake is staying in the comfort zone. Choosing a specialty simply because the department atmosphere is pleasant or the people are nice is not enough to sustain a fulfilling career. Instead, consider the growth potential, the level of autonomy, and the complexity of cases when choosing a specialty or work environment. Difficulties strengthen the mind and let you excel. It's okay to feel overburdened from time to time. So seek these challenges! Overcoming them will make you resistant and allow you to take on new challenges. 

AI drawing of a doctor in an arena getting ready to throw a sparrow.

Assess your long-term goals.

Lastly, some doctors overestimate how much they want to invest in their careers. You might want to have a family or more free time at some point. So always keep an exit strategy open. Medicine is a lifelong commitment, and it requires continuous learning and development. Therefore, it's important to reflect on your long-term career goals and assess whether you will invest the time and effort to achieve them. 

Plant yourself in the right soil.

Suppose you aim to achieve greatness and become a top performer in your field. First, seek out an academic environment that provides fertile soil that allows you to grow, with access to the latest developments and challenging projects. 

AI drawing of a doctor rooted in soil.

It's also important to surround yourself with smart mentors and coworkers with academic minds who are equally motivated and can challenge and support you. By nurturing yourself in the right environment with creative, knowledgeable, and inspiring people, you'll be able to thrive in your career and create the basis for your success.

Let your passion and curiosity lead you.

Do you want to spend almost your entire life doing something you dislike? We, as healthcare professionals, are fortunate. Medicine is an exciting and rapidly developing field with much room for curiosity and passion. For me, it was my love for photography and filmmaking that eventually brought me to medical imaging and echocardiography. As I learned more about the field, my passion grew and I became more motivated to learn and improve my skills. 

It is crucial that you need to enjoy what you're doing to get good at it. If not, save time and align your path to your interests and passions. Passion is a positive feedback mechanism; the better you get at something, the more you'll like it, and the more you like it, the better you'll get. So by choosing a career path that you're passionate about, you'll be more motivated to learn and grow within that field.

Be open to opportunities.

Flexibility is crucial for success in any career. Rarely does a career pan out exactly as planned and there are bound to be obstacles along the way. Therefore, being able to adapt and pivot when necessary is essential. Unfortunately, I have seen many healthcare professionals constantly striving towards their goals, only to become entangled in infighting with colleagues and superiors, ultimately hindering their progress.

While the advice to "live your dreams and never give up" can be inspiring, it's not always practical. Sometimes, it's important to reassess your goals and consider alternative paths. Instead, focus on keeping your options open and creating positive personal networks. As mentioned in previous posts, developing social intelligence and networking skills will pay off in the long run.

Being flexible also allows you to adapt to changes in your preferences or circumstances. For example, your career goals and interests may shift as you get older, and being open to new opportunities can help you stay engaged and fulfilled in your work.

Remember: Your career path is not a straight line. Embrace the twists and turns and stay open to new possibilities. With flexibility and a willingness to adapt you can achieve success and fulfillment in your medical career.

What about money?

Money alone is not a good guide for career planning. In essence, your knowledge and reputation are your biggest asset. But poor pay can be a strong “demotivator” on the job. So it does play a role. Specialties such as plastic surgery, orthopedics, and cardiology are at the top of the income list. 

AI drawing of a doctor with money flying around him,

In contrast, according to a Medscape survey, other specialties such as family medicine, pediatrics, and public health/preventive medicine are the worst-paid in the US. Still, when looking at financial gain, it's important to look into the future and find a way to combine your passion with fair pay. 

Good training and a high reputation will always open new avenues for earning more. Learning and practicing will lead to a more fulfilling and sustainable career in the long run.

Putting it all together.

In conclusion, follow your talents and passion, and plan your career but stay flexible. Surround yourself with the right people and seek an environment that will let you thrive. And stay patient. Your career is not a sprint but a marathon. 

In the next blog post we will deal with a very common problem: How to convince patients to take their medications?


Thomas Binder


In case you missed my previous tips, check them out here: