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6 May 2022
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Are you prepared for a seventy year multi-stage medical career?

By Dr Fiona Day

The traditional three stage career model of medical education, full time employment as a doctor, and then a period of later life retirement is no longer typical for a growing number of doctors and medical leaders. Instead, a multi-stage medical career is becoming increasingly possible: one that reflects the unique and changing needs of each doctor as they juggle their careers and their personal lives.

These careers may have periods of intense learning, periods of stability and ‘doing the job’, and periods of pause and reflection, often allowing for greater self care, attention to non-work pursuits or to balance caring responsibilities for the wider family.

The UK Office for National Statistics[1] predicts that 15.2% of today's 50 year-old women and 10.4% of today's 50 year-old men will live to be at least one hundred years old. This proportion is nearly 22.5% for today’s 30 year old women, and 16.6% of today’s 30 year old men.

With the prospect of a hundred-year lifespan for many doctors being a real possibility, the prospect of a forty-year retirement can seem very unappealing for medical professionals who have spent most of their adult lives actively engaged in the intellectual, humanitarian, and creative science of medical practice. Yet the risk of burnout in doctors and medical leaders is also very real and very serious[2]. How can we support doctors and medical leaders to continue to do their own best work as they age in the context of a multi-stage, seventy-year medical career?

Serial mastery

A multi-stage medical career allows for ‘serial mastery’ – where we develop deep expertise in certain core areas: the ‘golden thread’ running through our careers. We can build on and adapt these areas of mastery over time as our personal and professional needs, and the context around us, changes. This may involve core skills thatwe love, rediscovering lost talents and areas of interest, or moving into new directions.

Moving into medical leadership roles is an example of serial mastery for many senior doctors, however becoming a ‘medical leader’ is usually the start of a whole new career path and with that comes a whole new set of questions about career direction and also professional identity. ‘Career crossroads’ type questions and concerns are common in medical leaders: with the volume of choice, how do I move forwards from here? How do I understand myself professionally now that I am no longer on a traditional medical career path? How do I play to my strengths, and do my own best work and stay well at the same time? How do I choose the right next step for myself and position myself appropriately?

How expert medical career counselling can help

Professional Career Coaching and Mentoring can help medical leaders to answer some questions about career direction, however expert medical career counselling is the model of choice when a senior doctor or medical leader is facing a question about career direction or career choices, and is rooted in evidence-based occupational psychological theory.

Being strategic about one’s career needs in the context of one’s personal life is vital to ensure long and rewarding careers for every medical leader and senior doctor. It is wholly possible to enjoy the positive aspects of both home and work, to stay well, continually re-energised and motivated, and to impact on the health and wellbeing of the populations you serve and the colleagues you work with, through making skilful choices and decisions in the context of a multi-stage seventy-year medical career.

Dr Fiona Day is an FMLM associate member, an executive coach with the FMLM Coaching Network and former consultant in public health medicine and NHS Board member.

Access career coaching from an FMLM approved coach.

[1] accessed 04.04.22

[2] accessed 04.04.22

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