Creative Careers in Cardiology
"What do you want to be when you're all grown up?"
I have asked myself this question repeatedly since middle school. Back then, I had a profession du jour, often gravitating to an occupation based on which movie I had last seen, which family friend I had spoken with or what piqued my interest in class. Like many, after a formative experience in college, my interest in medicine crystallized. Given the prescribed nature of medical training, I anticipated having a career trajectory laid out for me; one that would get progressively narrower as I went through specialty training. However, I have learned that increasing expertise brings with it the ability to pursue additional, not fewer, career paths. Moreover, I have observed increasing interest in creative and "non-traditional" medical career pathways in my peer group.
While a career devoted exclusively to patient care as a clinical cardiologist is incredibly important and fulfilling, many Fellows in Training (FITs) seek careers that incorporate complementary components in addition to clinical work. The reasons for this are myriad and include a desire to work in varying environments, cultivate new skills and knowledge, and make a broader contribution to the field of biomedicine and health care. Most FITs are familiar with academic career pathways, which include physician-investigator and physician-educator constructs.
However, there is a paucity of information available to cardiology FITs regarding non-traditional career pathways and the means to explore these avenues. Using my own experience and the examples of many physicians who have crafted remarkable and inspiring creative careers, I hope to shed light on a subset of opportunities beyond conventional clinical and academic pursuits available to FITs. This article is the introduction to a series dedicated to exploring creative career pathways within cardiology. Later pieces will delve into strategies to explore these exciting opportunities and provide advice on how and when to pursue these paths.
Medical Writing: Communicating the Soul of Medicine
Physicians, especially cardiologists, are privileged to be involved in some of the most intense and significant moments in their patients' lives. We meet people from all walks of life – from the indigent to the infamous – and witness the glaring insufficiencies of our social contracts. We are repeatedly humbled by the resilience of the human body and spirit, and the limits of our own capabilities. While being part of a storied and ancient profession, we work on the leading edge of knowledge and push the boundaries of what is known to explore the unknown. These experiences naturally lend themselves to storytelling in various forms and outlets, including medical journals, news sites, blogs and books. Almost all clinician-writers I have encountered continue to see patients regularly, as it is the day-to-day practice of medicine that informs their writing most and creates this rich tapestry of experiences. Examples of extraordinary clinician-writers include:
Biomedical Entrepreneurship: Bringing Advances to Patient Care
Physicians are well-equipped to identify areas of clinical need and pioneer innovative solutions to meet them. The biomedical innovation ecosystem is rapidly evolving, and many physicians continue to bring novel ideas, products and services to the patient bedside. Biomedical entrepreneurship can include company founding, leadership, operational roles, start-up advising and venture capital. FITs and can get involved in such opportunities through professional networks , innovation events or courses. The following represent a few outstanding physicians involved with biomedical entrepreneurship within my network:
Health System Leadership: Shaping Health Care Delivery
Many physicians take on leadership roles throughout their careers. Cardiologists may be particularly well-suited to such careers as they have broad health system exposure, including emergency/acute/critical care, radiology and surgical or procedural services, and inpatient and ambulatory care. Physician-leaders often get their start by successfully running specific health system initiatives or developing expertise in areas of broad priority (e.g., health equity or information technology). Health system leaders can work in diverse areas ranging from clinical operations, strategy, human resources, quality and safety, and administration. These roles are available within and outside academic centers. Moreover, some physician leaders assume non-clinical healthcare delivery roles (e.g., payors, government organizations, etc.), for example:
There are a host of fulfilling opportunities available to FITs both during and beyond cardiology training. These pathways allow you to explore different facets of the health care system, develop nonclinical knowledge and ultimately enhance patient care. In future articles, we will examine each of the above career paths more closely, incorporating advice from physicians who exemplify them. While it can seem daunting to get involved in such opportunities, many physicians start with taking a single, defined step, which leads to continued professional growth.
This article was authored by Anubodh Sunny Varshney, MD, Fellow in Training (FIT) at Brigham and Women's Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA. (Twitter: @sunnyvMD)