Professional development

Should you hire a career coach?

If you’re unsatisfied professionally, a career coach can help. Learn what career coaches can do for physicians and how to find one.

When a doctor feels burned out—or simply no longer challenged—the path forward can look bleak.

But career coaching opens new vistas by helping physicians define goals and craft strategies to achieve them.

Coaches help clients:

  • Better manage the frustrations and anxieties of life as a medical professional.
  • Determine whether a job switch or career change makes sense.
  • Tap into professional networks, and improve resume and job interviewing skills.
  • Gain clarity on their goals.

“There are two things physicians say they want the most when they start career coaching—hope, and a plan to move forward on their goals,” says Heather Fork, MD, a Master Certified Coach and founder of Doctor’s Crossing, which offers career coaching services to physicians around the country. “I’ve personally been able to witness many physicians who were very unhappy professionally find career satisfaction.”

From the ER to the podium

Heath Jolliff, DO, enjoyed his work as an emergency medicine physician and medical toxicologist in Columbus, Ohio.

But several years ago, he realized he wanted to explore additional career avenues.

“I loved medicine, but there were multiple other things I was interested in,” he says. “I was trying to find a way to maybe blend those things together.”

A friend suggested he seek out a career coach. “I had no idea what that word even meant,” Dr. Jolliff says.

Eventually, he started working with Julia Pewitt Kinder, DO, a Nashville-based physician career consultant and coach, and founder of Physician Career Opportunities.

“The thing about coaching is that it’s just asking questions,” Dr. Jolliff says. “I kind of believe we all have the answers inside of us, we just may not know how to get to them.”

Dr. Kinder helped him uncover some of the things that most interested him. Today, in addition to working as an ER physician and toxicologist, he teaches as the assistant program director of a residency program.

He also speaks about medical issues to business groups and attorneys—“anybody who will listen”—and is a consultant to insurers, medicolegal organizations and political groups.

Dr. Jolliff is so convinced of the value of coaching that he has hired a second coach to help him with business matters. And he has plunged into coaching himself, working with other physicians as a Certified Executive Coach.

“One of the best things about coaches is they hold you accountable,” he says. “Because we all have these ideas, but they can easily go on the back burner.”

Making more money

Of course, physicians who sign up for coaching often hope it will lead to better compensation.

Dr. Kinder says physicians can use career coaching as a springboard to more lucrative work outside of clinical practice.

To illustrate, she conjures the image of a 50-year-old doctor who uses coaching to transition to a nonclinical career that increases pay by $50,000.

“If they only work 10 more years, that’s $500,000 additional,” she says.

She adds that many physicians who switch to nonclinical work can “reasonably expect [to make] much more than that,” with some doctors making “double and triple their clinical salaries.”  

Dr. Fork says that while some physicians benefit financially from the things they learn in career coaching, others—such as highly paid specialists—may take a cut in pay if they transition into a new role.

But that tradeoff is often welcome if leads to a better work-life balance and greater job satisfaction.

“It’s hard to put a price on being happy and fulfilled,” she says.

Dr. Jolliff has been able to explore new career opportunities while maintaining his income. He’s reduced his clinical hours by 50%, but his side gigs have enabled him to maintain the salary he earned when 100% of his work hours were dedicated to clinical medicine.

Finding a career coach

Career coaching services vary in cost. Some coaches charge by the hour, with fees often in the range of $200 to $500 per hour. Other coaches offer programs that cost a flat fee of several thousand dollars. Dr. Fork says these can begin at $2,500 and climb above $5,000.

Some physicians may only require a few sessions to sort out a current issue at work. Others may need more extensive coaching—such as if they plan to transition out of medicine entirely, Dr. Fork says.

Whatever the particular circumstances, coaches can work one-on-one with physicians to help them discover the best path forward, and the steps to get there.

“For a fraction of the cost of another degree, physicians are often able to find a new direction or career that is very satisfying and rewarding,” Dr. Fork says.

Dr. Jolliff says doctors frustrated with their current career path—or simply desiring to grow professionally—can benefit from coaching. He urges such folks to find a career coach who will offer an initial no-cost appointment.

When to consider a career coach

Burnout is the chief reason doctors seek Dr. Kinder’s services.

“They are exhausted from long hours and stress, and dissatisfaction with how the practice of medicine has evolved,” she says.

These physicians want to grow professionally, but also desire a better life/work balance, Dr. Kinder says.

“Many doctors find that practicing medicine does not fulfill all of their goals,” she says.

Dr. Fork agrees that physicians unhappy with their current career trajectory owe it to themselves to “explore options and see what’s possible.”

“I’ve seen so many wonderful changes being made by physicians from all variety of circumstances,” Dr. Fork says. “No one needs to feel trapped.”

If you’re satisfied with your career but are looking to gain an edge, this is also a good time to reach out to a career coach, Dr. Kinder says. Career coaches can help doctors hone their job-seeking skills, such as resume writing and interviewing techniques.

A career coach can also help when you need or want assistance with finding new challenges, Dr. Fork says.

“One of the hidden secrets about medicine is that it can become very rote,” she says. “Physicians like to keep learning and growing.”

Related reading:

Considering a nonclinical job? Here’s what you need to know

More doctors are choosing to work part-time

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