As a disillusioned physician who felt like I was selling my soul in order to keep the stability of a job within the insurance-based US health care system that demanded that I see 40 patients a day, I longed for a different life. As a young woman, I thought medicine was my calling. For me, medicine was a spiritual practice. You practice medicine like you practice yoga or meditation, like you won’t ever fully master it. As a doctor, I felt grateful to have the opportunity to have a front row seat on life, and as an OB/GYN, I felt particularly blessed to have the opportunity to greet the newly incarnated souls right as they entered the world.
But over time, I began to doubt my calling. Although I now realize how common my feelings were, at the time, I felt different and isolated among other doctors. Even though I felt called to medicine at the age of seven, I came to think I had made a mistake. I was the sole provider for my family, with a husband and a newborn to support, but I wound up quitting medicine at the ripe old age of 37.
It took me nine months to realize you can quit your job, but you can’t quit your calling. I’ve since realized you can use your medical education in countless ways that don’t require seeing forty patients per day. I thought there was only one way to be a doctor. You either followed the blueprint, or you quit. I now realize some of the happiest, most successful doctors are creating mission, purpose, and abundance using what they learned from becoming a doctor to serve in other ways. In case you or someone you love resonates with the archetype of the true healer but feels frustrated with the current system, I want to share with you some of the creative career choices of doctors I’ve met since leaving conventional medicine to pursue a writing career.
Because being a doctor brings with it not only knowledge and experience but also credibility, doctors who love to write have a leg up in the world of blogging, magazine article writing, and book publishing. My physician writer colleagues include doctors like Rachel Naomi Remen, Christiane Northrup, Bernie Siegel,Larry Dossey, Mark Hyman, Andrew Weil, Deepak Chopra, and Sara Gottfried.
Doctors who build online communities through blogging, writing books, or social media can make a good living selling ebooks, teleclasses, webinars, and other virtual products. Great examples include Kevin Pho, MD, founder of KevinMD.com and Joseph Mercola of Mercola.com.
Most physicians have been approached by PR companies who will pay for the opinions of doctors as they create new pharmaceutical products, but it’s not just drug companies that value the opinions of doctors. Many companies, such as biotech companies, seek out physicians to consult.
Some physicians have lucrative careers carefully screening law suits and serving as an expert witness in medical malpractice cases. While some doctors of questionable ethics become infamous for being “hired guns” and saying whatever a lawyer wants them to say, it is possible to be selective about the lawsuits you will help defend or prosecute, in line with your own ethics.
If you offer something a patient can’t get with their insurance-based primary care doctor - such as time or an additional skill like acupuncture, energy medicine, or an integrative medicine approach - you might consider switching to a cash-based fee-for-service or concierge medical practice. Examples of doctors successfully running such practices include Aviva Romm, MD of the Ultrawellness Center and Rachel Carlton Abrams of Santa Cruz Integrative Medicine.
Some physicians run entire businesses teaching workshops and getting paid to speak publicly. Others use public speaking, workshops, and television as a way to attract business for cash-based medical practices or coaching practices.
Any physician with an online community or social media presence is likely to attract the attention of PR firms who are seeking out product endorsements from doctors. When I first started blogging, I made most of my income from being the public face in the media for women’s health product companies.
Part of my business model is a training/certification program for physicians called the Whole Health Medicine Institute. Other physicians running successful training programs include Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease and Dr. Andrew Weil’s integrative medicine fellowship Arizona Center For Integrative Medicine.
With increasing demand for physicians who can offer guidance over the telephone, physician coaches and telemedicine doctors are on the rise. Many of these businesses are cash-based businesses, such that patients are paying the physician directly, rather than having the physician bill insurance. Philippa Kennealy of EntrepreneurialMD.com offers business coaching for physicians interested in entrepreneurial business, while some of the doctors who have graduated from my MD training program the Whole Health Medicine Institute have gone on to offer their services as wellness coaches.
The archetype of the shaman/healer involves not only the practice of healing but often music, art, and other creative methods of expression. Although many physicians may consider themselves “left brained” and “not creative,” most doctors, when given the chance, find that they have a highly developed creative streak. Before becoming a professional writer, I was a professional artist, and I know many other physician artists, musicians, and other creative types. Robin Wedberg, MD still practices medicine but also runs as side business selling her jewelry. Rodney Thompson, MD is a gifted artist who, like me, paints with beeswax. Rupa Marya, MD is the lead singer of Rupa & the April Fishes.
There are dozens of other options for doctors outside the conventional office/hospital job, including positions as a locum tenens physician, moonlighting, hospital administrator positions, medical director jobs, and a variety of entrepreneurial opportunities. The most effective way to find out what works for you is to tap into the essence of who you are at your core - not the masks you donned in medical school, but the soul of YOU.
1. What opens my heart?
2. What brings me pleasure?
3. What comes easily to me?
4. What is my zone of genius?
5. What skill do I have that other people value?
6. What makes me different than other doctors?
7. What do others always tell me I do well?
8. What did I dream of when I was young?
9. How can I integrate what I’m good at with what I love?
10. What would I do if I wasn’t concerned with approval?
Most successful physicians who work outside the conventional system have found a way to integrate a talent, skill, or personal interest with what they learned as a doctor. If you have a hobby, how might you merge your hobby with your medical expertise? Think all the way outside the box. Be wildly creative, and see what comes up!
If you’re a visionary physician interested in entrepreneurial business, get ideas on how to get started with the free teleclass I created with Amy Ahlers 10 Red Hot Secrets To Fire Up Your Message, Money & Meaning In The World.
Most importantly, never forget that you will always be a healer in your heart. You can quit your job, but you can’t quit your calling. The world needs you and your healing heart.
With faith in you,
Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, and the host of the hit National Public Television special Heal Yourself: Mind Over Medicine (link). Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com, teaches teleclasses (link) with luminaries like Martha Beck, Rachel Naomi Remen, Amy Ahlers, and Tosha Silver, and has sparked a movement to revolutionize health care at HealHealthCareNow.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, a lover of dancing, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area.
When you comment on an Owning Pink blog post, we invite you to be authentic and loving, to say what you feel, to hold sacred space so others feel heard, and to refrain from using hurtful or offensive language. Differing opinions are welcomed, but if you cannot express yourself in a respectful, caring manner, your comments will be deleted by the Owning Pink staff.