Why Practicing Medicine is More than just a Paycheck

Your Healthcare Career Evaluation

By Eugene Schmuckler PhD, MBA

By Dr. David E. Marcinko MBA


Studs Turkel, in his outstanding book Working, makes the comment that work is the mechanism by which many of us get our daily bread and our daily purpose. If this is to be the case then the workplace needs to offer us something more than a paycheck. The Wilson Learning Corporation surveyed 1500 people asking “If you had enough money to live comfortably for the rest of your life, would you continue to work? Seventy percent said that they would continue to work, but 60 percent of those said they would change jobs and seek “more satisfying” work.

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Each of us has in fact been put in charge of our own careers. Our personal career management is a lifelong process. Our task is to be able to discover our place in the world where we will be able to enjoy a high level of wellness. This requires us to now assess our career, not from the eyes of the sixteen year old who initially chose the career. The career you are now pursuing needs to be compatible with your own unique skills, knowledge, personality and interests. It is important to keep in mind that no one is married to his or her job. When it comes to the workplace most of us are in dating relationships.

A Medical Career Worth Examined

As part of your examining your current medical career, answer the following questions: Why do you work? What does work mean to you? What do you want from work?

Research shows that most people work for three major reasons. The first of these is money. Not only is this necessary for our most basic needs it also serves as a means of determining our self-image. A second reason is to be with other people. Being at work enables us to belong, to be part of something beyond ourselves. We become part of a team. Some offices consider co-workers to be part of an extended family. The work setting affords us the opportunity for receiving feedback, recognition and support. The third most often given reason is that work validates us as people if we consider what we do as having meaning. “I chose the medical profession so as to make a difference.” Individuals with career success have a sense of purpose, a feeling that their work has meaning and contributes to a worthwhile cause. This is not a trick question. How well does what you do in your office every day meet your needs for money, affiliation and meaning?


Job Purpose

Without a sense of purpose on the job the chances are that your performance while adequate will not place you in the excellent category. Therefore, it is necessary for each and every one of us to be able to succinctly answer the question, “What is the purpose of your job?” That is a tough question to answer.

As a medical professional you may have seen what you considered to be the purpose of your job radically changed due to changes in the way services are now delivered. While we cannot bring back the past we can work around the present. Think about this for a moment, “If you want something to happen make a space for it.”4 What this means that whether you remain in your current profession or move elsewhere there is a need for you to establish long-range, medium-range, short-range, mini, and micro goals.

Long Term

Long-range goals are those concerned with the overall style of life that you wish to live. Regardless of your current age these goals are necessary. Long-range goals don’t need to be too detailed, because like the federal budget surplus, changes will come along. Just as the government is making projections into the future you too need to be making projections including but not limited to retirement.

Medium Term

Medium-range goals are goals covering the next five years or so. These are the goals that include the next step in your career. These are goals over which we have control and we are able to monitor them and see whether we are on track to accomplishing them and modify our efforts accordingly.

Short Term

Short-range goals generally cover a period of time about one month to one year from now. These are goals that can be set quite realistically and we are able to see fairly quickly whether or not we are on track to reaching them. We don’t want to set these goals at impossible levels but we do want to stretch ourselves. After all, that is the reason you are probably reading this chapter.


Mini-goals are those goals covering from about one day to one month. Obviously we have much greater control over these goals than you do over those of a longer-term. By thinking in small blocks of time there is much more control over each individual unit.


Micro-goals are goals covering the next 15 minutes to an hour. These are the only goals over which you have direct control. Because of this direct control, micro-goals, even though modest in impact, are extraordinarily important, for it is only through these micro-goals that you can attain your larger goals. If you don’t take steps toward your long-range goals in the next 15 minutes, when will you? The following 15 minutes? The 15 minutes after that? Sooner or later, you have to pick 15 minutes and get going. At some point procrastination has to be put aside.5

Personal Assets Evaluation

In thinking of your goals it now becomes necessary to evaluate your personal assets. Conducting this personal inventory requires you to identify your assets as well as your shortcomings. First, look at a time in your life when you were performing at your best. What were your thoughts and feelings? How did you behave? What were you doing? Now look at the reverse when you were doing poorly. What were your thoughts and feelings at that time? How did you behave? What were you doing?

If you are like others when you were at your best you described yourself as being confident, enthusiastic, organized, relaxed, focused, in control, friendly and decisive. The flip side, when at your worst you were fearful, apathetic, messy, anxious, lacking direction, out of control, argumentative and frustrated.

As you can see the emotions when we are at our best are all positive. This leads to the conclusion that it is to our advantage to be at our best as much as possible. Being at our best derives from working in those areas where we contribute our talents to something we believe in.  As we continue our own personal inventory we need to look at our special abilities. That is, what are you good at and find easy to do. Think of the following questions. It’s not necessary to write down you answers just think about them.

  1. How would you like to be remembered?
  2. What have you always dreamed of contributing to the world?
  3. Looking back on your life, what are some of your major contributions?
  4. When people think of you, what might they say are your most outstanding characteristics?
  5. What do you really want from your life and your work?
  6. In what way may you still feel limited by the past? If so, by what?
  7. What will it take to let go of what has happened, no matter how good or bad? Are you willing to let go?
  8. How might the rut of conformity or comfort be limiting you? Why?
  9. How different do you really want life to be? Why.
  10. Have you ever stated what it is you truly desire? If no, why not?
  11. How good could stand life to be?


Career Changers

Thinking about remaining in your present career or moving into another one is not easy. You are at the edge of a cliff and need to decide if you are going to turn back or to trust in yourself to successfully make it down to the bottom. People who are afraid of the dark lose their fear with just the slightest of a light in the room. As you have been going through this chapter you have been shining a light, however dim it may appear to you. You can see all of the items around you. The obstacles are there but with your advance knowledge you can anticipate ways to avoid them.

Personal Analysis

Having looked at and possibly re-evaluated your plans you can now do a thorough analysis of your assets. The assets requiring the most scrutiny are the following:

  1. Your talents and skills
  2. Your intelligence
  3. Your motivation
  4. Your friends
  5. Your education
  6. Your family

Your talents and skills are more than likely what has gotten you to the point you are at in your present career. For purposes of definition talents are innate, skills are acquired. Some have talent in interpersonal relations and some in artistic pursuits. Skills may be selected to complement the already present talents. It is skills that are necessary for expanding your options. As you seek out new skill areas ask yourself these questions. Do the skills provide occupational relevance? Might you be able to get others to pay you to teach them the skill? Will the skill be useful throughout life? Will the skill help you conquer new environments and gain new experiences? And, of course, Is it something you like to do?


Intelligence is considered to be the ability of the individual to cope with the world. Originally, intelligence focused primarily in the area of cognitive skills. Recently attention has been directed to what is called emotional intelligence, a concept that directs attention to social skills. Whether you were able to breeze through your courses in college or you truly had to work hard, earning your degrees demonstrates a better than average amount of cognitive intellectual ability. In order to maximize your brainpower, challenge yourself regularly.


Motivation looks at how hard you are willing to work, your level of persistence, and the degree to which you want to do well. Different things motivate each of us and our personal motivators can vary from day to day. How many times have you had people say that they could not do your job? What are the activities that are attractive to you? More than likely an important motivator for you is to do something worthwhile. It has also been found that we tend to perform at about the same level as those people who are close to us. What this means is that those people with whom you work are going to have s substantial impact on your motivation.


Friends of course are invaluable assets. We use our friends as models for our own behavior. Those persons we consider friends share many of our attitudes, actions and opinions. With time we will change to be like our friends and they will change to become like us. Associating with those like us tends to temper our behavior. We try not to associate with the “wrong crowd” lest we become like them.


Education needs to be ongoing. Recently, it was reported “all careers and businesses will be transformed by new technologies in often unpredictable ways. The era of the entrepreneur will make ‘boutique’ businesses more competitive with the behemoths, as mid-sized institutions get squeezed out. And medical break-throughs and the ongoing health movement will enhance-and extend-people’s lives.”[1] The implication of these changes is that new technologies often require a higher level of education and training to use them effectively and new biotechnology jobs will open up. The authors state that all the technological knowledge we work with today will represent only 1 percent of the knowledge that will be available in 2050. The half-life of an engineer’s knowledge today is only five years; in ten years, 90 percent of what an engineer knows will be available on the computer. In electronics, fully half of what a student learns as a freshman is obsolete by his or her senior year. The implication here is that all of us must get used to the idea of lifelong learning.

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Finally, family influences who and what we are and do. They can be a support group or they can be a deterrent to your goals. It is incumbent on every individual reading this chapter to consult with immediate family members at all stages of your career planning process.


And so, your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. What career stage are you in currently; and are you satisfied-why or why not? Is practicing medicine more than a paycheck?

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Note Dr. Gene Schmuckler is director of behavior economics for www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.com, as well as www.MedicalBusinessAdvisors.com. He is an expert on physician career re-engineering, and a retired Professor of Organizational Behavior who taught Dr. Marcinko [our Publisher-in-Chief] in business school, almost two decades ago. He contributed the chapter on physician leadership and personal branding in the third edition of the upcoming book: www.BusinessofMedicalPractice.com to be released in the autumn of 2010.

Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko and Dr. Schmuckler, are available for seminar or speaking engagements.

Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com

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4 Campbell, D. If You Don’t Know Where You are Going You’ll Probably End Up Somewhere Else, Niles, IL: Argus Communications, 1974.

5 Campbell, D. op. cit.

[1] The Futurist, March–April 2001.

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One Response

  1. New Medical Care Business Models for Burned out Doctors

    After 25 years as a family physician, the joy of medicine was gone for Joseph Mambu. He’d spent 22 years in a practice big into HMOs, across from Abington Memorial Hospital, but felt that model never lived up to its promise.

    When he and his partners sold to Holy Redeemer Hospital a few miles away, Mambu struggled with being an employee with little control.

    Find out what he did next?




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