How to Build a Conscious Relationship With Your Career as a Physician

Posted by Dike Drummond MD

POPPodcastTEXTSimpleThe Medical Education Process Drives Each of Us to an ALL-IN Relationship With Our Career - for better and for worse.

This exclusive career focus is one of the primary causes of burnout - especially for employee physicians - and is often not healthy for you and your family.

  • If you look to the modern practice of medicine as the single source for all the money, meaning and purpose in your life as a default setting
  • And if this singular focus is resulting in stress, frustration, despair, fantasies of quitting medicine altogether or retiring early

There are other choices available that would be healthier for you and your family. When we are coaching over-stressed physicians, making a conscious choice on your relationship with your practice of medicine is one of the most common mindset changes we teach and can be a true career saving move for a doctor teetering on the edge of burnout.

In this episode of the Physicians On Purpose Podcast we discuss the options available and how to make the mindset shift that will make all the difference. 

You can decide just what you rely on your practice for - in the context of your larger life.

Options include:

  • ALL-IN

POP Podcast Ep26. Building a Conscious Relationship with Your Career


Podcast Transcript:

Hello again Dr. Dike Drummond here at the home of in beautiful Seattle, Washington with the latest edition of the physicians on purpose podcast. I'm flying solo again today. Today, I'd like to talk about a topic that's super important that I've developed with myself and our coaching clients, I've got about 3000 hours of one-on-one coaching experience with physicians right now most of them were burned out, which is why they consulted me as a coach in the first place.

Let's talk about building a conscious relationship with your career as a physician.

Now, as always, though, we always do a work outside the whirlwind. So I don't know what was going on in your day before you push the play button. But I bet there was some form of whirlwind either at work or at home.

So, let's take a big deep breath, take a big deep breath of me right now, Big breath in. And as you exhale, just let go of anything that doesn't need to be here right now. And pop yourself out of that whirlwind, off to the side, because it's in that new perspective, looking in from the outside of the whirlwind that we can get some insights and some new ideas about what you might do differently when you go back inside.

So here's what I have found. This was certainly true for me. And it's true for a whole bunch of my coaching clients.

The experience of going through medical school, and residency is all consuming. All of your life that you used to have before you got admitted to medical school, friends, hobbies, sports, sort of goes by the wayside as you dedicate all of your consciousness and waking hours to your studies. It's such a huge burden to get through to the finish line of medical school, and to get through to the finish line of your residency or fellowship, that there's no room for other priorities.

The people who maintain the best balance that I've seen happen to be the folks who have babies in medical school or residency, because you're literally forced to have another point of focus in your life, another set of priorities.

But for most people, when you graduate, from your residency, or fellowship, and you're now board certified, and you're off in your job, now, what's happened is, you have an unconscious, all consuming relationship with your career, right?

  • All of your money,
  • all of your work activities,
  • all of the things that you look to, to find meaning and purpose in your life

are all focused 100% on your career as a physician.

And that's potentially a rather unhealthy place. It is certainly way out of balance.

If you decide you want to be an employee physician and you step onto the treadmill of someone else's job description and it doesn't match your desires as a physician, doesn't match what you find meaning and purpose in when you're working inside that organization. If that happens to you, and you're getting all your meaning and your purpose and your money out of your career, that can be a potential train wreck of a collision between an unconscious all-consuming relationship with your job and a job that doesn't match your ideal.

And that's where a lot of burnout comes from. In my experience, people say to me, “Dike, I love my patient. I just hate my job.” And one of the things we can do, and I've worked with hundreds of Doc's on this, one of the things we can do is pull you back, you can step back from that all-consuming relationship and actually have a conscious, planned, awake, eyes open relationship with your career.

Let me give you some examples of what I mean.



The first level of this is to what I call TERRARIUM, your practice.

You are getting burned out, things aren't the way that you'd like them to be. You know, you want to make some changes, but you're not sure what changes you want to make. So let's terrarium your practice.

And if when you were a kid, you're like me, I had terrariums. I would make them in 10 gallon aquariums or the lid and I make a little ecosystem in there that didn't need a lot of tending terrarium.

When you're talking about your practice. What I mean is put a lid on it, put a lid on it.

Realize that the fastest way for you to make the money it takes to support your family's lifestyle is probably for you to still see patients. But what I'm suggesting is rather than attempting to suck all meaning and purpose out of your practice, what I want you to consider doing is just put a lid on it.

  • Go in, see your patients, do your documentation, and then get out of there.
  • Don't volunteer for any committees.
  • Don't write any research papers.
  • Don't take any extra patients if it's avoidable and doesn't violate the culture of your group.

But use your practice as a professional vehicle to make the money that your family needs while you take a breather and try and figure out what comes next.



Another layer of this relationship with your practice is to pullback into what I call a BRIDGE position.

Normally, when you're ALL-IN, what you want to do is you want to stay in this practice for the whole rest of your life and never leave. That's what most people are thinking. But a bridge position is when you either treat this job or you treat a new and temporary job as a bridge.

You're saying to yourself, ultimately I'm going to land someplace else. Ultimately, I'm going to land in a better place a better job. And for right now this is good enough because it's a bridge to a new reality.

So for instance, some people will take a will quit their current job and take a locums position and acknowledge that's a bridge I don't intend to be a locum for life. Although some people have a great time being a locum for life. It's that's a lifestyle that you like. But you can take locums as a bridge position and doing this temporarily as a bridge to a better place.

You can actually do that with your current job, you can terrarium it, and then declare it a bridge. I'm in a bridge position, I am not going to be here in three to five years, I'm bridging my way to a new place, right?

So terrarium and bridge, consciously choosing that as a relationship with your career, rather than the default ALL-IN of our medical education.



Some people choose to stay where they are in their current practice, but they say you know, I'd like to try some new things on the side. And they develop what is popularly been called a SIDE GIG.

The side good can be something that is related to your current practice, or it could be something completely on the side. Right?

So you could say, and this is, this is a common one that I see, you can say I want to begin to practice medicine in a different way, I'm going to be a functional medicine specialist, I'm going to get trained. And I'm going to do that on the side or I'm going to do Botox and fillers are any one of a number of different things that you can do on the side within the context of a normal medical practice.

Or you can do something completely on the side, where you develop another area of focus and purpose and meaning in income that's potentially outside your practice. So you might do you know, rental real estate investing. There's so many different things that you find on the internet that you could do as a side gig.

Now. bandwidth and balance become issues with some of these, but side gigs help some people develop that conscious relationship and get more meaning and purpose out of their practice.



You could say I'm going to develop a side gig and turn that into a TRANSITION, right? So my ultimate goal is that this side gig would be at one point in my life, it would be full time. Start a side gig and transition it into an actual new full time career outside of medicine.

And that transition phase can sometimes last years sometimes last even longer.

By the way, one of the of the measuring sticks that is commonly used in the entrepreneurial world is that if you've got a side gig, that makes half as much money as your regular job, that's a place where you could potentially quit your regular job and jump 100% into the side gig. The extra time you can devote to it would turn that into a success that would replace your salary from your day job. That's if you are a person that's on a transition journey.



And then last but not least conscious relationship with your career as a clinician, you could get to a point where you've transitioned completely out of medicine. Now I'm just describing all of the options here.


The majority of people that I work with who tell me, “Dike, love my patients still like practicing medicine hate my job.” And our experience is, as coaches are this happens 70% of the time. With some tweaks, some coaching, some accountability and some new actions, you will get to a point where you're back into your comfort zone with your job, and you will stay where you are, and be a full time doctor. That's my experience.

For the 30% of folks who are not able to do that comfortably, it's of that 30% that a job change, or side gig and transition happen.

But there are a lot more doctors out there saying I'm going to quit than who actually do. In my's very rare for a doctor to actually transition completely out of medicine. quite rare. But if you ask doctors, if they want to be practicing medicine in 5-10 years, you'll hear in some cases, the majority of them say yes, they would like to be out of medicine. It just doesn't happen very commonly.

So rather than have this unconscious, ALL-IN relationship, putting all that pressure on your career in these modern times
– STEP BACK and ask:

  • do I want to put this into terrarium mode?
  • Do I want to make it a bridge?
  • Do I want a side gig?
  • Do I want to have a long term plan of transitioning out of medicine and have a defined and conscious relationship with career perhaps for the first time, right?


Because, remember, it was our training that made this unconscious ALL-IN a single point of focus on your career, the norm for most physicians.

Perhaps this tool of a conscious relationship can help you take the pressure off your career, take the pressure off yourself to develop the balance and to rehabilitate your practice into something that works for you and your family going forward.

Does that make sense? If not, please leave a comment.

Come over to and contact me through the contact form. Hopefully this helps develop a conscious relationship with your career. I'll see you in the next podcast. Until then keep breathing. Have a great rest of your day.


Tags: stop physician burnout