Like many physicians, otolaryngologists at mid-career may experience some form of burnout and be looking to make a professional shift. Indeed, a study published in the Annals of Surgery last year found that otolaryngologists had high rates of career burnout that paralleled those of trauma and vascular surgeons (Annals of Surgery. 2009;250(3):463-471).
Explore This IssueNovember 2010
One way for an active clinician to make a change mid-career is to shift from a heavy clinical practice to a more administrative role.
“When someone is well into their career, building a practice may not be as high a priority as defining the nuances of practice,” said Myles Pensak, MD, professor and chair of otolaryngology at the University of Cincinnati. “For a number of physicians, boredom sets in. There’s a routinization, and a mid-career change can invigorate them. It allows physicians to take skill sets from surgery, including timeliness, thoughtfulness, discipline and organizational management, and apply them in systems such as a college of medicine, hospital or health system.”
The key to changing course is to start with the right mentor, Dr. Pensak said. Mentors are often identified as key for junior faculty and otolaryngologists just beginning their careers, but they can be just as important for a more senior surgeon looking to make a change.
The type of mentor you may seek for a mid-career shift can be summed up with one initial question: Can you identify individuals who have already made the change you want to make?
“At the end of the day, most people know one or two colleagues who have gone through a transformative process or thrown out a wider net as to what it is they’re doing,” Dr. Pensak said. “Seek these people out.”
What if you don’t know anyone who’s made such a move? Pick up the phone and make some calls, Dr. Pensak said. Ask colleagues if they know of anyone who’s moved from a predominantly clinical practice to a role in hospital or academic leadership.
Another resource is the Triological Society. “A cornerstone of the society is that you have a group of senior, highly experienced, diversely backgrounded individuals who are available to tap into,” Dr. Pensak said. “Try people within the [American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery], and people in your residency programs. If you’re already in an academic medical center, seek out the wisdom of your chair, or the head of your department at your hospital.”
—Myles Pensak, MD
Experience You Need
Taking on a role in administrative leadership at an academic medical center, hospital or specialty society requires more than just a good mentor. It calls for experience beyond the surgical suite and clinical practice. Such experience is actually fairly easy to get if you’re willing to donate your time.