One of the most common fears doctors have when contemplating a career change is that they have no transferable skills.
“I only know how to be a doctor”.
“If I’m not a doctor, what else can I do?”
I’ve heard all these statements before, and luckily, it’s not true.
There are the obvious skills we possess as physicians that may seem unhelpful for other jobs, like cannulation and airway management. However, we have a whole range of skills that are extremely useful for any career. Let’s take a look at the top 10 skills we most likely have as a doctor that apply to any job.
1. Time management
As a medical student, junior doctor, and senior, we are skilled at time management. Each day there are a finite number of hours and x amount of tasks. Often the amount of jobs seem near impossible to get done in the time we have, yet we prioritise, order, and somehow get it done. The skill to effectively use our time is key in any workplace. Most likely, a physician in a non-clinical career will find that they can get all the tasks done by the end of the day and know when something is urgent vs can wait.
2. Communication skills
In medicine, we are constantly communicating with many different people. Our colleagues, juniors, seniors, allied health, nurses, patients, and the patient’s families. Medicine is a human-facing job, and we develop strong communication skills. Think about how you need to discuss goals of care, break bad news, and consult other medical specialties. Everyday we are honing our skills at speaking with others, and learning how to synthesis our knowledge and share it appropriately. Communication skills are essential in most jobs, whether it’s face-to-face or electronically.
Medicine is a team job, yet we are often solo-agents. As a junior we round with the boss, then head off to get our jobs done. It takes a lot of self-management and self-motivation. Often, after we finish work we then go home to do self-directed study and further research. Doctors are great at self-management. Having an employee or being self-employed requires high levels of responsibility for your own actions. I’m sure it’s most bosses dreams to have an employee that can self-manage and that you can trust. If you want to create your own business, you can also trust yourself to do the work you need to do.
4. Working well under pressure & resilience
Resilience is a word that people may dislike right now, yet if we face the facts, doctors have high levels of resilience. Med school was hard, training is harder, and working in acute care plus studying isn’t for the faint hearted. Our job deals with people’s worst days. Most likely, we’ve seen it all. Stuff that you can’t share at a party. It’s physically and emotionally tough work, that is often fast-paced. This means we are great at working under pressure and can deliver results in a fast-paced environment. If there’s a deadline looming, you can work to it. If a work-emergency pops up, great, that’s what you’ve been trained to manage. You’ll most likely be able to keep calm and level-headed to do what you need to do.
Employers want adaptable people, it means you can manage changes in the workplace and will be more productive. As an entrepreneur, being adaptable means you can make changes as needed and stay open to new possibilities. Doctors are adaptable. Think about it. How many rotations have you done in your career? How many people have you worked with? How many hospitals have you seen? What other job out there involves such a change in staff, environment, and specialty? Everyday we work with a new team of nurses, allied health, and sometimes even doctors. This means we’re good at adapting to new people, teams, and places. During our workday itself there is constant change too, new patients, sudden changes, emergency calls…We’re masters of adaptability.
6. High-ability learner (we learn fast!)
“See one, do one, teach one”. We’ve all heard that adage. As doctors, we’re expected to see it, do it, and then be masters at it. We learn fast, and we learn a large amount of information. Being quick to learn new skills and understand new information means we can learn what is needed to change careers. Physicians are most likely high-ability learners. Some characteristics of this include:
- Learn new material quickly
- Increased capacity to remember what we’ve learnt
- High levels of curiosity
- Advanced critical thinking skills
The skill to make informed choices based on the facts available is key in many jobs and in life. As doctors we are always making decisions. Yes, our decisions are usually clinical, but it means we’re used to weighing up the information available and making a rational choice. In other workplaces, we can use this skill to identify problems early and find innovative solutions, usually with high initiative. Beyond work, most of life is about the decisions we make. Having this skill helps us to design what we want for our time here.
8. Problem solving & critical thinking
The ability to use knowledge and data to solve problems is critical to medicine and many other careers. We are constantly thinking on our feet in medicine, assessing problems, and finding solutions. This skill is highly sought after in many workplaces, not just in medicine. We can make connections between logical ideas and see the bigger picture, meaning we can help solve issues in the job we find ourselves in. Isn’t that useful?
Medicine is all about the team. We often have multidisciplinary meetings, refer to many different professions during our work day, and work with our fellow junior docs daily. The ability to work in a team cannot be understated. Most jobs require teamwork, and being effective in this skill (which we are), leads to greater effectiveness of organisations, happier employees, and even lowers the risk of burnout.
As the doctor, we find ourselves running codes, leading clinical decision-making, and leading the difficulty conversations. Ultimately, as the admitting medical officer, the responsibility of the patient’s care lies on the consultant. We delegate, resolve conflicts, and learn how to lead by example for juniors. Leadership is a highly valued skill that applies to any career. Good leaders inspire co-workers, increase autonomy, improve productivity, and strengthen the bonds of the team. Your ability to step up is a transferrable skill for any job.