Podcast Episode 56 | Never Stuck: How Doctors Can Find New Career Paths

With Melissa McClung

About the Prosperous Doc® Podcast

The Prosperous Doc® podcast by Spaugh Dameron Tenny highlights real-life stories from doctors and dentist to encourage and inspire listeners through discussions of professional successes and failures in addition to personal stories and financial wellness advice.

Shane Tenny, CFP® is our podcast host and Partner at SDT. He has lectured numerous times for hospitals and physician groups and, most importantly, helped hundreds of clients develop strategies to navigate through turbulent times toward their financial goals.

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These discussions are explicitly tailored to doctors and dentists, highlighting achievements to inspire you to reach personal, professional, and financial wellness. You will hear real-life stories of doctors’ winding career paths to turning practice wealth into personal wealth. 

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Full Transcript

Melissa McClung (00:00):

When it comes to changing completely and looking in a different direction, sometimes it takes somebody with a unique insight into that industry to be able to say, "Well, have you thought about this?"

Voiceover (00:10):

From Spaugh Dameron Tenny, it's the Prosperous Doc podcast. Real stories, real inspiration, real growth. A show for doctors who are ready to improve their overall wellness in every aspect of life. Now, here's your host, Shane Tenny.

Shane Tenny (00:24):

All right. Welcome back to the Prosperous Doc podcast. My name is Shane Tenney. I'm Glad to have you with us today where, yes we are talking about career change even for those of you who wear a white coat to work every day. Did you know that most medical professionals will end up spending about 90,000 hours at work between training, residency, fellowship? Not to mention all of the stress you experience when you're not at work, the time being on call, the bureaucracy, it's daunting. And we all know the conversations around stress, anxiety, burnout have been growing over the years and especially, through the pandemic for many, this whole COVID 19 thing has been the last straw and the thought of doing something else just won't leave you. And so changing careers is something that you wonder about but it's not without its risks. Career changing doesn't start easy, it takes a big mindset shift, planning and decision making because it not only affects you and your days but also all those who depend on you whether it's your family or your staff or your patients.

Shane Tenny (01:39):

Well, today I'm joined by Melissa McClung to discuss career changes. Do you need one? How do you navigate it? What do you need to carve your own fulfilling path in a career whether it's in medicine or something else? Melissa is a career coach, an author who helps healthcare medicine and science professionals. She works with clients to help them find jobs where they can do what they love, at least most of the time, be compensated well and have the time and energy to pursue the passions that really make life most fulfilling. Melissa, thanks so much for joining me today.

Melissa McClung (02:19):

Thank you so much. I'm so excited. I'm looking forward to our conversation.

Shane Tenny (02:24):

Yeah. I know this one about, can doctors change careers is a really big one. Let's start with a little bit about your background now. How did you get into this field of work, helping people explore avenues for their unique ability?

Melissa McClung (02:40):

Yeah. It's a little bit of a long story as most career navigations are. But the very sort of it is that I was in my Master's degree program and I took an internship at the College Career Center which I can tell you honest to God, I only took that because it paid and I needed to afford groceries. I had every intention of being a child psychologist. I had been in school to do that for many, many years. And I was in training and in my last season before I was going to be graduating and pursuing that career. However, I fell in love with career coaching and so then I decided to switch tracks and pursue that instead. I've been a career coach for the last 12 years but I got to work with healthcare medicine and science professionals specifically, whenever I worked as the operator of the career center at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Melissa McClung (03:40):

There, I was helping doctors get into residency. I was helping bench scientists decide whether they wanted to go into industry or academia. I was working with clinical providers from everything, from nursing to different health professions. Then when they closed my office, I went and worked in the pharmaceutical industry. So I have this well rounded exposure to many different facets of the healthcare medicine and science industries which makes me uniquely positioned to work with clients whether they're clinical or not through their transitions because most of us know how to look for a job that looks just like what we're doing right now. But when it comes to changing completely and looking in a different direction, sometimes it takes somebody with a unique insight into that industry to be able to say, "Well, have you thought about this?" And I get the opportunity to do that with my clients every day.

Shane Tenny (04:29):

I think that's a really neat point you make which is, we know how to look for a job in what we're doing. I just don't know how to look for a job in what I'm not doing.

Melissa McClung (04:36):


Shane Tenny (04:38):

So of course, the pandemic has brought stress on all of us for all the reasons that pandemics bring stress but especially, on those in some of the fields that you target. I guess, aside from COVID, what are some of the factors that are just the common denominators among people who want to or need to explore a career change?

Melissa McClung (04:58):

I think the word burnout gets a lot of attention right now. But whenever I talk to people, it's not usually the first word that people use. I'll tell you, honestly, most people who I talk to say things like this, "I know I should be thankful for the kind of work that I have." And then they don't really want to talk about the reasons why they're not grateful for it. Or they'll say, "I know I have a good job but," and it's that dawning realization that there are a lot of cost benefit to the kind of work that they're doing. So they're looking at their life and maybe they've had a baby, maybe they've gotten married, maybe they've had a different transition, maybe a parent is getting older. Oftentimes this tends to happen around major life transitions where life changes and then we start to reevaluate.

Melissa McClung (05:50):

"Am I doing the things that are filling my personal bucket so that I can serve other people in my life?" And I think, especially when we're talking about healthcare providers, everybody wants to help other people. They want to be somebody who really serves their community and so a lot of times they need reassurance that there are more than one or two or three ways to do that. And that there are a lot of ways to serve and to care for other people that may not demand quite as much as you mentioned at the beginning of this conversation, when they're considering that next step of their career.

Shane Tenny (06:26):

You wrote a book called Mind Your Career , for sale on Amazon so for those that listen to this and think, "Oh, I need more nuggets from Melissa." You can find it on Amazon again, Mind Your Career. And you bring up a phrase I read about going from fatigue to fulfill.

Melissa McClung (06:42):


Shane Tenny (06:43):

Talk a little bit about that concept.

Melissa McClung (06:46):

Yeah. I think that most of us when we begin our career, we're pretty excited about our career. And we usually hit this point mid-career and this is a universal thing that nobody ever talks about. So we hit this point mid-career where it's not as challenging as it was for us early on in our career. So we have grown and we've changed and we've developed so we've gained the competency that kept us really invested and really interested in our career in the first place. And so we've hit that competency level where now it's not hard but because it's not hard, we start to see the disadvantages. So we start to see the long hours, we start to see how much time we're not being compensated for. We start to see the toll that it's taking on our physical and mental health and we start to see some of those things and we long for the fulfillment that we had early on in our career.

Melissa McClung (07:41):

And sometimes we think, well, if we just go to a new employer that will solve that problem and I'll feel more activated again. And sometimes that works for a little while but ultimately, what we have to realize is that as human beings, we have to grow in competency over time. And we need to look for ways to build that into our career journey so that we can stay fulfilled and stay true to that mission of being able to serve other people or whatever that mission is uniquely for ourselves.

Shane Tenny (08:13):

And so this is where you're talking about just becoming aware of what it was that made you feel fulfilled at the beginning. And then find the outlets to reinvigorate that whether it's in your current career or whether you need to switch.

Melissa McClung (08:29):

Yes. And oftentimes it can be as simple as just that you need to learn a new skill. You need to try something and have it be hard for a little while, especially mid to late career. We get this idea that we need to be the expert in everything but that carries its own burdens. And sometimes it's really nice to be the novice at something. It really gives us an opportunity to focus on something else and I believe as human beings, we like to grow and change over time. So giving ourselves the opportunity to do that either within work or outside of work gives us new challenges to keep us engaged.

Shane Tenny (09:02):

And so let me ask the pointed question that I'm sure is going through the mind of some of our folks listing since our podcast here is for, for those in medicine and dentistry, primarily for, for individuals who spent 10 or 11 or 15 years in training and a cost of that may a ACC student loans, those sorts of things. Is it realistically possible for a doctor to change careers?

Melissa McClung (09:28):

Absolutely. I work with doctors all the time who want to change careers, but the first question I always come to is why are we wanting to train? What is it about your current work? That's no longer fulfilling to you? Is it something where we can add a hobby and build competency in that area and reinvigorate ourselves? Is it that we need to hire somebody to help us with our notes because that's actually, the point and part where it feels like we're not getting enough done? Is it something that we can change our contract a little bit to not have to worry about our views, our reimbursement value units?

Melissa McClung (10:03):

How can we reinvent our contract or our situation to make things better? Or are we just interested in changing something entirely? Do we want to take our skills in medicine and move into something like drug safety or in clinical research? Or do we want to try something in the pharmaceutical space or in medication access? Do we want to try some of the new opportunities in digital health? So I think that yes, absolutely. There are plenty of opportunities available to people and what it really comes down to is having good conversations so you can identify what those opportunities are and how they might bring more fulfillment to your life.

Shane Tenny (10:40):

What are some of the signs that you often see when folks come to you and say, "I think I need to talk about a plan B."

Melissa McClung (10:50):

So typically, the plan B conversation comes when someone feels like they're not able to give enough time and intention to the things outside of work that are the most important to them whether that's their family which oftentimes it is family or it's their physical health. They're having some physical health events that are precipitating this need to make changes because as we all know, stress doesn't do great things for our body. Lack of physical exercise doesn't do great things for our body. Not being able to eat functionally appropriately, makes a lot of bad changes for our body.

Melissa McClung (11:25):

And so sometimes we'll have that conversation of, "Okay, how can we carve out more time and space for you to eat like a person that doesn't have to go into back to back patient room? How can you create an opportunity to exercise? What does that realistically look like for you?" And so then we start down that path and sometimes it's just a mental shift. Like they woke up one day and they realized, "I don't feel connected to my purpose any longer. I don't feel like the work that I'm doing helps me achieve the transition that I'm hoping to make for my clients or for my community."

Shane Tenny (12:00):

In your book, you also bring up a concept that I feel it fits in what you're describing here which is that story we tell ourselves. And I'm curious to have you unpack that a little bit but the mentality that, "I can't do anything different or I'm stuck in here. Or there's no other choice because of either the financial situation we're in or the student loans I have or these sorts of things that just tie me to this current reality and limit my ability to explore other things." Talk a little bit about that.

Melissa McClung (12:32):

Yeah. So I can't claim ownership over that phrase, the stories that I'm telling myself or the story I'm making up right now. That is definitely a Brené Brown phrase. However, I found it very helpful in my own life and in the lives of my clients to take a step back from the racing thoughts that we're having and acknowledge that we are creating the narrative about our own reality. So that's how two people can approach the exact same situation and walk away with it with different feelings. It's the narrative that we're sharing inside of our head that really changes our perspective about those things. And so in terms of career, some people have no difficulty with some types of work but the most common story I hear people telling themselves is, "I should be okay with this even though I'm not."

Shane Tenny (13:25):

Yeah. I think the should word is a really powerful one there. The other concept that just comes to mind for me, not that I have any expertise in your field but from coaching I've done and things like that is asking, "Instead of asking yourself, is this possible but asking, is this impossible?" And when I ask myself if this is impossible, it's much easier to say, "Well, no. It's not impossible." And so then it just opens up the mental space to be able to say, "Well, if it's not impossible then what would happen? What would need to happen for me to pursue or change or create the new reality that I feel drawn toward?"

Melissa McClung (14:03):

Yeah. And I think that you bring up a really good point in that sometimes what we need in order to break out of that story that we're telling ourselves, is someone to ask the right question or someone to bring up something that we've never thought about before. And this goes back to my early time working with physicians and I would ask them, "Why did you choose to be a physician?" And they would say things to me like, "I really wanted to help people," but I tell you that a lot of people choose to be a doctor because either someone they love is a doctor and encouraged them in that pathway or because they had great interactions with doctors as children either in caring for themselves or loved ones. And so they're drawn to that profession because A, they know about it and B, because it feels like it fit what they're wanting to do which is to help people.

Melissa McClung (14:51):

But when you have any kind of limited social circle, when we all have these, we have people we go to church with or people that we love and are connected to, maybe some people that we went to school with, we tend to think about, they're not being a lot of different career options. We see the big buckets, "You can be a doctor, you can be a dentist, you can be a nurse, you can be an occupational therapist." We see these big buckets but we don't really think about all the possibilities within those things. And there's an estimate right now that there are over 82,000 different career options within the United States. And that's not job titles, there's infinite amounts of those.

Melissa McClung (15:31):

But those are actually, explicitly different career options that are available. And so even if you're looking at your situation, you're like, "Well, but I have this MD. I want it to mean something. I don't want to take a step back, I don't want to have to go back to school. I'm still paying on student loan debt." There are still so many options where your MD can be valuable or your DDS can be valuable and appreciated and used, that don't have to necessarily require clinical care if that's what's burning you out.

Shane Tenny (16:05):

Those are the great point. And in fact, I realize I'm up against the clock here. So I want to take a quick break but then I want to go into, what steps do you need to take to set up a successful career transition? So we'll cover that right after this break. Those of you wearing white coats to work every day, literally or figuratively know how important your training specialty and income are to your future. But what happens if you get sick or hurt and can't work? The truth is that during the course of your career, you are three and a half times more likely to be injured and need disability insurance than you are to die and need life insurance. Disability insurance is one of the most important pieces to protecting the progress you've already made and the future you're building.

Shane Tenny (16:53):

But it's also one of the most nuanced types of insurance. If disability insurance is something you'd like to be more knowledgeable about, check out the free guide available for download from our sponsor Spaugh Dameron Tenny, at their website, sdtplanning.com. Click on the financial resources tab to download the free guide to understanding disability insurance. This and every episode of the Prosperous Doc podcast is sponsored by Spaugh Dameron Tenny, helping docs and dentists make smart decisions through comprehensive financial planning. Download the free guide to understanding disability insurance at sdtplanning.com.

Shane Tenny (17:40):

All right. So I'm here with Melissa McClung, we're talking about career changes and her book about minding your career. Melissa, right before the break you were talking about just the reality that the training, the background, the story that we have can often be used in a variety of ways, not just direct patient care or dealing with a patient panel and those sorts of things. What needs to happen or what are the steps for a successful career transition for somebody who's in medicine or even dentistry?

Melissa McClung (18:12):

Yeah. So I think that the first step, and I appreciate you asking this question because I think that it feels really overwhelming to jump just from where you're at right now straight into, "Now, I'm doing something new." Most people aren't ready to do that yet. Most people are not like wanting to take a new job four to five weeks from now. They really want to take this step by step process. And that first step is identifying the potential options that you have and then exploring those options by having conversations with people. And LinkedIn is an invaluable resource for this. Even though physicians don't always use LinkedIn at the same rates that perhaps, other business professionals do. If you don't have a LinkedIn profile, you're missing out on opportunities to really have great conversations with people. LinkedIn is a place where no matter your personal walk, no matter where you're at professionally, no matter the organic network you have because of who your parents are or where you went to school, you can have conversations with just about anyone.

Melissa McClung (19:17):

So you can find people who are doing work that's very interesting to you and begin a conversation with them, asking them about how they got into that work. Most people love to talk about themselves, they love to talk about their story and you can learn from that, things that you can't find on any website. You get to learn about where are those career fields going? What are the problems that they anticipate, what skills do they wish they would've had before they made that transition so that you can start to build those skills now.

Melissa McClung (19:47):

And I really think that conversations and then following up and building those relationships is the first place to get started. I think the thing that's really exciting about that one, we're talking about physicians and dentists is that, physicians and dentists typically have very good relationship building skills. You have to be able to develop rapport and give people your attention and those are the two most important things when it comes to this first step. So it's not like you're doing something entirely new all at the first. You get to use skills you already have that are highly honed for you to then figure out what that next step could possibly be.

Shane Tenny (20:26):

Are there any mistakes that you see people make sometimes in thinking about or exploring your career change?

Melissa McClung (20:34):

Yes. So probably, the biggest mistake I see people make is thinking that their first step needs to be rewriting their resume and so they hire a resume writer to rewrite their resume. And the reason why that this is a mistake at the first is that without knowing what your job target is, it's very difficult to write a resume. So you may be able to pay someone a 150 to $10,000 to rewrite a resume for you but unless you know what your job target is, they're not going to be able to use those skills to really appropriately target that new position. And so I do talk to people a lot who come to me and they say, "This is what I've done so far." And we end up talking about the resume and they'll say, "Well, I can't really afford coaching because I already spent $5,000 on this resume." And essentially the resume's useless because it's not targeting the right kind of positions. So I would say that your first step definitely, doesn't need to be worrying about your resume or CV.

Shane Tenny (21:36):

Now, let me piggyback off as you were answering that question, I was just thinking about what you were saying and what we covered just a minute ago, when you were talking about the network that we have and our perspective whether it's growing up or even in our current life. We know the people around us, we know what jobs they have. For someone who is either in career or maybe still in training or in medical school and they're thinking, " I had made a horrible mistake. This is not what I've been called to but I don't know what else to do. Or all I can conceive of is what I see a friend or my family members doing." What tips do you have or what resources or books do you sometimes recommend, open people's eyes to the world of 82,000 other jobs they could consider explore?

Melissa McClung (22:22):

The person that you're talking about, I used to talk to these people all the time. They were the people that started in on the medical field or they started their medical degree training and they got into it and they're academically talented but they find that the work is either more challenging than they expected or it's pushing them in a direction that they didn't really plan to go. And to those people I say, remember that it's okay to hit the pause button. It's okay for you to pause your education for a little while to figure out whether or not this is the right step for you. You don't do yourself any favors to continue throwing money at a problem if you're not sure that the solution that you're working toward is the right one. And also if you're in a situation where you are struggling academically, please make sure you're talking to your administration about the likelihood of being able to match.

Melissa McClung (23:15):

Because the most heartbreaking conversations I have are people who made it all the way through their medical degree program but can't match. And therefore, they have an MD that's very difficult for them to use. They have a lot of debt but a very difficult situation. So first, don't be afraid to hit the pause button. Second, reach out and talk to me. I'm always happy to have a conversation with anyone. Each situation is very unique but when you are in those situations, I would say, "You need to hit that pause button and you need to start having some really crucial conversations quickly."

Shane Tenny (23:51):

And then how do you start thinking of what else you might want to do? Or is that what a career coach does?

Melissa McClung (23:55):

That is what a career coach does. So I have the opportunity every year to get to work with some fantastic international medical graduates who don't have residency. And so we'll start looking for things that are in healthcare related industries where that MD is valued but board certification is not necessary. And there are roles and paths that are allowed for people who have MDs but don't have the board certification. They are somewhat more competitive so it's always good to have a conversation about how to make yourself more competitive but I'll tell you, it's not just getting more certifications and it's not just taking courses from people who tell you on the internet, that it solves all your problems. So I think having a conversation with a coach is a really good place to get started.

Shane Tenny (24:42):

Now, I'll piggyback off that. How do you make sure in the midst of your dissatisfaction that you don't just look at the grass greener on the other side or jump out of the frying pan into the fire? Now, I've gone all this effort to have the first job which I gave up on or I changed my mind on. Now, I'm just in something that I'm equally as dissatisfied with.

Melissa McClung (25:04):

Sure. Starting with the skills, values and goals and understanding really what you're trying to go after is the most important thing. That's another thing where my book can be helpful or a conversation with me can be helpful. But I think that when it comes right down to it, we also need to be aware of that we're not burning bridges here. Just because you go and try something else doesn't mean you've torched the path back behind you and there's no opportunity to go back. We're not burning ships here, we're not on a new coast where there's no other opportunity but forward. And so it doesn't hurt to try something new and maybe it works and maybe it doesn't, maybe you learn something about yourself in the process. But I would be surprised if there's a situation where the situation is so bad that you can't figure out a way back around it.

Shane Tenny (25:53):

Yeah, you're right. I guess, we can try something out. It doesn't have to be the forever. It has to be the next. And then from there we can do something next whether that's a complete career change or a contract and renegotiation or whatever and we'll just move forward from there.

Melissa McClung (26:08):

Yes, absolutely. I think that the best question to ask yourself, "Is this something I can do for the next three to five years?" If the answer to that question is no, then there's probably, some red flags you might be overlooking. But it doesn't need to be the question, it doesn't need to be, "Can I do this for the rest of my career?" It just needs to be, "Can I do this for the next three to five years?"

Shane Tenny (26:28):

And so for somebody who's listening and thinking, "This is definitely, touching a nerve in a good way. This is stirring something in me that makes me realize I needed some help taking a different tap." What happens when people call you, what's that process like? Is it a lifelong commitment? Is it a workshop? Is it weekly handholding and direction setting? What's it like to work with a career coach?

Melissa McClung (26:57):

Well, the first thing that happens is we just have a conversation. I'm a real person, you're a real person. We have a conversation about what you need and sometimes what you need is coaching. But sometimes what you need is an introduction to someone else or for me to just acknowledge that, "Yeah. Your situation right now, there are some things that are really challenging about it." And so that conversation first is just about us connecting and seeing what the problem is and how I might be able to help whether that's getting you connected with someone else or looking for opportunities to move forward with us working together.

Melissa McClung (27:30):

But for most of my clients, I work with them in one of two ways. Either we work on a job search by job search basis which means I walk them all the way through that transition from deciding what they're going to do to having conversations, to building the application documents, negotiating the settlements, whatever that looks like. Or the other way that I help them is through targeted leadership or career advising. So we talk about what's going on but they're not wanting to leave. So they want to stay in their current role but how do we make that current role more palatable, easier to fit within their life or change some aspect about that. And so that's when we really talk about what's working, what's not, how do you have those crucial conversations? How do you get other people on board and how do you solve problems in the way that matters most to you?

Shane Tenny (28:16):

That's excellent. I can see where you are such a resource to people who just need your skillset to navigate a next step for them.

Melissa McClung (28:29):

Thank you. I love being able to do what I get to do and the reason I love that is because I love seeing other people change their own path. The reason I fell in love with career coaching in the beginning back many moons ago, whenever I had that first internship is because I got to see where people had the resources already to solve the problems that they were facing. All they needed is someone to just believe in them enough and give them a little bit of information to set them off on the right path. And it just is so beautiful to see someone move into that power that they have within themselves and make positive changes in their own life.

Shane Tenny (29:10):

So true. Melissa, as we wrap up here, a question I love to ask all of my guests is just about your own history and I'm a big believer that we all accomplish what we've done because of what others have given into us. And so my question for you, is there someone in your life, in your training, in your background that you now stand on the shoulders of to impact the world around you, that you want to just give a shout out to here?

Melissa McClung (29:39):

Yeah. So the person that's probably, impacted me the most, that's still living. And there are a few that are missing from this world now, is my grandmother. And my grandma, Naomi, she and my grandfather were entrepreneurs and grew me at their table of entrepreneurship from the time I was very small and they helped me understand this concept of serving other people through the work that we do. And even though their work isn't necessarily directly related to service, they always had that servant mindset and how they could use that service to improve their community and also glorify God. And those two things are so important to me and a legacy I'm very grateful for.

Shane Tenny (30:24):

Well, then we'll raise a virtual glass to grandma Naomi. So thanks so much for being with us today and for all you're doing. I appreciate it.

Melissa McClung (30:33):

Thank you.

Shane Tenny (30:35):

Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Prosperous Doc podcast. So grateful for you and for following us as always, we really welcome and ask you for your reviews on iTunes or Google Play. They help on the search algorithms when folks are looking for places to find information or encouragement. As always, if you have any suggestions for guests which Melissa was suggested to us by a former guest on the show, if you have someone that you think we ought to interview or a story that's worth hearing, by all means, email me directly. It's Shane@whitecoatwell.com. Thanks. And I'll see you back here, next time.

Voiceover (31:14):

This episode of the Prosperous Doc podcast is over but you're not alone on your journey. Spaugh Dameron Tenny has been helping physicians and dentists prosper through financial planning for over 60 years. To connect with us, visit sdtplanning.com today and take your financial wellness to new levels. Join us on the next episode of the Prosperous Doc podcast.