From Scrubs to a Suit

wallstreetOver the years I have had the pleasure of getting to know quite a few physicians with a talent and interest in business. I have noticed in that same period of time, an increasing number of physicians wanting to jettison their clinical life for the ranks of the proverbial technology start-up, venture capital, media or consulting of one kind or another. Some want to pursue an executive role….sometimes healthcare related, sometimes not; and there are plenty of other avenues.

In this post I will lay out a few initial thoughts to consider if you’re pondering a career move from clinician to business-person. In a follow-on post I will offer specific thoughts on the usefulness of the MBA degree as it applies to a variety of business related career paths.

Maybe you are one of those who went through your training thinking you’d found your calling. Now you find yourself disenchanted for any number of reasons. With the industry undergoing a lot of change with resulting uncertainty and declining reimbursements, it’s not a surprise that many docs are questioning if medicine is indeed where they want to spend the rest of their professional life. Meanwhile, news headlines make the life of a Mark Zuckerberg or Dr. Oz seem enchanting in comparison.

Before you decide to give up a career as a clinician, I suggest a long hard review of your goals and talents, keeping in mind that you have already spent a great deal of time, and likely money, on medical training. This investment cannot be overlooked. That said, if you are not fulfilled in your clinical role, and/or you think a business career is more to aligned to your long-term interests and skills, then it’s time to consider the landscape and how to get from here to there. (I always feel a sense of sympathy when I hear the all too common story that a person went through the rigor of medical school and beyond because it was the desire of their parents. I am all for respecting the wishes of one’s parents, but spending years of your adult life and large sums of money for something your not passionate about is unfortunate to say the least. So, if you are reading this in advance of medical school and this scenario hits home, make the hard decisions sooner not later for everyone’s benefit.)

While I wouldn’t make the decision to migrate out of medicine without serious analysis, advice from trusted friends, a career coach etc….let’s assume you are ready to trade in the scrubs for the pinstripes (jeans and a polo shirt if you are going to be in Silicon Valley). What follows are thoughts and ideas on how to make the plunge.

Physicians are intelligent and used to hard work. The path to becoming a physician is a strictly prescribed chain of academic and apprentice-ship oriented activities. The migration from clinician to business professional is imminently doable, but the path is very different depending on the intended end-game. For many physicians, the immediate impulse is to get an MBA. This makes sense at face value because the path to becoming a doctor is academic…specifically, obtaining an MD/DO. However, the path to becoming a successful business-person has no such requirement or easily prescribed path.


  • If you attended medical school, but haven’t even completed a residency, then the value of your MD/DO is really diminished in most healthcare-business circles. I regularly hear physicians who resent or discount a business-person leveraging their MD in the healthcare business world when they know the person has never completed a residency, let alone practiced. Several years buried in medical books is not useless, but most practicing physicians are adamant that their real training in medicine, and therefore the real value of the letters next to their name, extends from their resident training and subsequent clinical work. Don’t take this lightly if you are thinking of grabbing your MD and heading straight to Wall Street to convert on the title.
  • Lost-earning time. A full time MBA is a two-year commitment. There has been lots of analysis about whether time away from a career will ever be made up with increased salary as a result of the MBA. Remember, the cost of the program isn’t just the tens of thousands of dollars in fees, it’s the lost salary and career advancement associated with two years out of the ranks of the employed. In many cases, this delta never gets closed. The part time MBA, Executive MBA etc. heavily change the nature of that analysis. Rationalizing the numbers is much, much easier across the board in many cases.

More in my next post on the utility of the MBA degree.

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