Career & Life Advice

A Non-Traditional Medical Path

Tuesday, 27 Feb, 2024

How my career journey landed me here

Did you always want to be a doctor? Honestly, I didn’t. When I was at school, I never dreamed of studying medicine; convinced I was the only doctor who felt like this I kept that a secret for many years!

But you know what? I’m here to show up authentically and as a career coach it only makes sense to share my own career journey…the struggles and the wins!

In high school I was head over heels for all language subjects. I also happened to be a Latin champion! I’m not bragging here either; I don’t remember my exact Latin mark in the HSC but it was over 95 and I was in the top 10 in the State. Nerdy, right? My second best subject was French. My dream was to study languages at uni, become a teacher, and hopefully work with children with disabilities. 

Physics and chemistry on the other hand – I studied those to “keep my options open”! 

The first time I actually passed a physics exam was in the HSC trials! Finally my HSC results came out, and acknowledging how privileged this is to say, I’d done much better than expected!

Instead of shouting this from the rooftops, I was actually disappointed. Everyone started telling me that I “couldn’t waste those marks becoming a teacher”. While I now love my career as a doctor, hindsight tells me those comments about wasting those marks as a teacher are way off the mark – that is to say, working in education is an extremely valid career!

So, taking those well-intentioned comments to heart, I applied for medicine. Behind my back I was crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t even get in! When I was accepted, I told myself I’d give it a go for a year and, if I didn’t like it, I’d change to my original plan.

Surprise surprise (well, hopefully not), it turns out I loved it! It was nothing like the sciences I’d done at school and much to my absolute delight, there was even a bit of Latin. The Latin nerd in me rejoiced! I also loved interacting with patients; I was in one of the first intakes of the Newcastle course and we had patient contact from very early in the course. It was my favourite thing.

Even though I loved everything about medicine, once I got to Uni I definitely wasn’t one of those medical students who knew exactly what they wanted to do when they finished. I didn’t have a clear plan, but thought that I’d probably enjoy general practice. The one area that I absolutely loved was O&G but, unlike today, at that time the training program was very inflexible and not really consistent with having a family, which was important to me. 

In the end, it was family that pushed me to finally decide on my specialty. I was 30 and had 3 little boys under 3 when my husband was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I’d been doing some part-time administrative work and felt that a non-clinical role would give me the most predictable hours and flexibility if I ended up bringing up my kids by myself, which seemed very likely. I moved through a series of hospital administration jobs, worked as a DPET (Director of Prevocational Education and Training) for 6 years, was the Medical Advisor to the Postgraduate Medical Council of NSW (now HETI), worked for the Medical Board and as a Medical Advisor for MIPS. 

Despite my complete lack of a plan, I’m eternally happy with how things panned out, even travelling a completely non-traditional path for a doctor! It’s led to me having a varied and satisfying career, and it’s this exact experience that’s landed me here, doing the job I was always meant to do – providing career advice for other doctors.

Although things went well for me during my career track, I’m conscious that this isn’t the case for lots of doctors. The majority of doctors who come to me to talk about career change tell me that they studied medicine because they got the marks, or because it was someone else’s dream for them. Sound familiar at all?

Often this means these doctors have never felt fulfilled in their work, and I believe everyone deserves to have a career and life that they love. It’s definitely possible to align all three; your values, your life goals, and your career.

Getting there isn’t a cookie-cutter approach by any means, but there is a way we can figure it all out; and when we do it’s life-changing. 

Decades later, my husband is still alive and is one of the longest-known survivors of multiple myeloma. My love of languages persisted too and I now have a French daughter-in-law to help me practise my French (not sure that I’ll ever revive the Latin!). After a career path that twisted and turned (in all the right ways!) I’ve ended up doing something I absolutely love.

Jo 

To read more about finding balance in your own medical career, take a look at my article, Find A Career and Life You Love.

Your new career journey could start here 

If you need a strategy for a particular issue, are looking to change direction, or are thinking of leaving medicine entirely, we can work together to find the best path forward for you. 

[Learn more about 1:1 Career Coaching]

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