Not every young physician plans to pursue the conventional course to a clinical career in medicine. Learn more about other options and what inspired physicians to follow them.

Researcher, political adviser, medical director for a jail—these and other options were on the table during a workshop titled “Shaping unique careers in medicine,” part of the 2016 AMA Annual Meeting in Chicago.

Inspiration in surprising places

Outside-the-box choices can excite the imagination and bring a satisfying and inspiring career in sometimes unexpected places.

“We had an appetite for doing something other than clinical practice,” said Erick Eiting, MD, referring to himself and the other panelists. He told students in the standing-room-only session that he had never thought of a career in medical care for inmates until his dean called him into his office one day and pitched the idea.

Today he is medical director for USC Correctional Health, a collaboration of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the county health department and Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

Dr. Eiting has since found his sense of mission serving some of the most medically and socially disenfranchised in society: those behind bars.

“I think you’ll realize along the way that there will be opportunities that present themselves to you, things you never considered before,” Dr. Eiting told students. “Half the skill is recognizing when you have a good opportunity—and how you can chase that.”

Heather Smith, MD, spends 25 percent of her time treating patients in the Bronx. The rest of the time she is a researcher and academic generalist at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Women’s Health Center at Montefiore Medical Center.

Her master’s degree in public health, which she earned before her MD, gave her a perspective on health policies and disparities, she said. “I realized I really wanted to impact patients, but inside the clinical wall was just not enough.”

She encouraged students to explore their options: “There really are no mistakes; there are decisions that may not be right you in the moment, but down the road it will put you in the right place.”

For Josh Lumbley, MD, his career path was very focused. Dr. Lumbley is chief medical officer for the Midwest division of NorthStar Anesthesia and a former legislative aide to Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “I wanted to be in the maelstrom … of policymaking,” he said. “I want to be a leader in health care; I want to be where it’s hottest.

“I’m very happy with the choices I’ve made,” Dr. Lumbley said.

Medical student Kevin Mensah-Biney, a second-year student at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, came to the session to hear just such testimony—to learn what options are out there and how the decision-making process unfolds.

“It’s about how your decisions are not necessarily something you are predisposed to do,” he said, “but how different options come your way unexpectedly.”

Dr. Smith urged students to forge a balanced life, based on a sense of mission within medicine and outside it. Students also should be confident that life will take shape over the long term, she said.

“You may find your niche, or you may create your own niche,” Dr. Smith said. “Feel free to make all the mistakes you want to make, then I’ll see you in 10 years.”

Learn more about nontraditional careers in which physicians are shaping health care outside the exam room. AMA Wire® recently profiled Rep. Tom Price, MD, R-GA, and John Whyte, MD, an official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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