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Non-Clinical Careers for Physicians.
Should I Go Back to School? [Part One], by William S. Frank

Editor's note: this article was first written for physicians, but it applies to any professional or business leader.

Don't get me wrong. I like school, enjoy studying, and could easily be one of those perpetual students we read about. But I live in the practical world of job placement, and I find that for mid-career professionals, too much learning can be detrimental.

Just as it's possible to over-improve a house by putting in a fancy kitchen or swimming pool—it's possible to over-improve your career.

If you put too much into your home—if you over-improve it for your neighborhood, you may never get your money back out. The house will be too expensive to sell.

You can do the same thing with your career.

You can over improve it to the point that employers can't afford you. You price yourself out of the market.

Employers already look at physicians as "expensive." They think you make a lot of money. When they see an MBA or JD behind your MD, they think you will be even more expensive—possibly prohibitively so.

Physicians are good learners, good students. You enjoy learning. You're bright and do well in classroom settings. It's tempting to think more education is better—because more education, in some cases, is the path of least resistance.

More education doesn't necessarily make you more marketable, unless you're learning something employers can't get anywhere else.

The best strategy for mid-career professionals is to sell what you already have—your background, training and experience—not what you don't have. Look for employers who will hire you NOW, for what you know and what you can contribute NOW. Chances are, if you position yourself correctly, the right employer will be thrilled to find the skills you already have. You already have a lot to offer. Look at your lifetime accomplishments and work achievements.

Never get an advanced degree unless you must.

This is especially true if you're nearing age 40, and even more true if you're 45-65. Very few companies actively seek 45-year-old MBAs. The 20-somethings fit much better.

Career consultants hate to hear the phrase, "I'm working on an MPH, but I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it." Or even worse, I've just completed an MBA (or JD, etc) and I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it." [ . . . and now I need to figure out what I'm going to do with it."] We dislike these phrases because they mean the student isn't focused, doesn't understand who they are and what they're doing. Such unfocused people are extremely hard to market.

Follow Stephen Covey's advice in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: "Begin with the end in mind." Before you start an advanced degree, be sure there is a demand for YOU [at your age in your geographic area] with the specific skills you plan to acquire. Talk to employers and ask them, "Would you hire ME, if I had the XYZ degree, and if so, what would you likely pay?"

There's nothing worse than completing an advanced degree and entering a declining or non-existent job market. Not only do you have the debt of the education [or the lost opportunity cost], you have no means of repaying it. It's terribly demoralizing.

Before you register for a specific program . . . [continued on next page].

See Part Two of this article. Return to index of articles


"The circumstances of your life have uniquely qualified you
to make a contribution. And if you don't make that contribution,
nobody else can make it." —Harold S. Kushner

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