Doctors’ Successful Career Change is Possible

Dr. Safwan Zharif Zaini is the Medical Manager at the Vaccines Division of a French multinational pharmaceutical company. He is pleased that he resigned from the government sector and made that career change. More importantly, his career quest showed him his true interest and what he needed to do to reach his life goals. He wanted a job that pays well and still afforded him a work-life balance. According to Dr. Safwan, doctors’ successful career change is entirely possible. He offers some guidance here.

While at the Ministry of Health (MOH), financial commitments weighed heavily on Dr. Safwan’s mind. The pay was insufficient to meet his financial needs and he wasn’t a fan of the bureaucracy within the hospital system. He  was also not eating well or getting enough sleep. His financial commitments demanded that he take on locum positions in addition to his day job.

“I realized that there was a unique balance in Occupational Medicine. It didn’t just involve doctors and patients but also the employers.”

Discovering Himself in the Process of Career Change

When he left the civil service, he decided to take up a course in Finance and Business Accounting in Ireland to earn a better income. But seven months into the course, Dr. Safwan realized that his heart wasn’t in finance but in medicine. This self-discovery prompted him to follow his heart and return to Malaysia immediately. Upon his return, he engaged in some freelance locum work when a position as a Medical Officer opened up for him. The position was based at the Integrated Petroleum Complex in Pengerang, Johor.  

Both his locum experience and his Pengerang job offered Dr. Safwan another crucial insight about himself. It was his fascination with Occupational Medicine. “When I did ‘Return to Work’ documentation, when I vaccinated food handlers…I realized that there was a unique balance in Occupational Medicine. It didn’t just involve doctors and patients but also the employers”. The dynamics fascinated him and he knew that this was the area that he wanted to specialize in.

Successful Career Change
Dr. Safwan Zharif Zaini

Choosing the LFOM

 In researching his options, Dr. Safwan knew that he could complete a NIOSH Malaysia Occupational Medicine Diploma, but this certification would require renewals and is only valid within the country. Alternatively, he could complete the Licentiate of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (LFOM) from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) which is a life-time certification. It would also open doors for employment opportunities in various countries!

The fact is, medical officers from the MOH wishing to specialize in Occupational Medicine must first obtain  the Doctor of Public Health degree to be certified as a Public Health Specialist. Only then are they allowed to pursue Occupational Medicine in order to be certified as an Occupational Medicine Physician by the National Specialist Register (NSR) in Malaysia.

As he was no longer with the MOH and had no possibility of re-entering the system, he needed to find an alternative pathway to achieve his goal. 

Hard Work Pays Off

In his mind, Dr. Safwan knew he was giving himself the best chance for a good future by pursuing the LFOM. But that decision came with a high price. The program and expenses cost him a hefty sum of  money. And although the course was offered locally, it was a time-consuming, energy-absorbing effort. 

“Basically [the LFOM certification] justifies my current job. It was my ticket to being hired by the Pharma company. It is my ticket to networking with the Occupational Medicine fraternity.”

On a weekend, once every month for six months, he traveled  from Johor to Seremban by bus and by train to meet a study group. The teaching in this group was conducted by experienced Occupational Medicine doctors. These sessions were akin to paid tuition classes. The group started out with 10 persons and dwindled to six who were eligible to take the exam. 

Dr. Safwan passed the LFOM examination which consisted of 100 multiple choice questions and four case reports. It also included a workplace assessment report and a viva examination.  

Doctors' successful career change

His Role at the Pharma Company

By the time the Pharma job offer arrived, Dr. Safwan was working as a Medical Officer on a ship off the coasts of Sabah and Sarawak. Dr. Safwan notes that the LFOM certification, “basically justifies my current job…. It was my ticket to being hired by the Pharma company. It is my ticket for networking with the Occupational Medicine fraternity.”

He had finally found the job which he desired. It is a permanent position that comes with perks, and which allows him to do what he likes, which is to speak and make presentations. Some of these presentations are related to the field of Occupational Medicine.

Know what you want in life. Know what you really, really want.

His present job scope involves overseeing vaccines for children, adults, and special groups including travel and endemic vaccines. “When it comes to travel, some people travel for work while certain endemic diseases reside in certain occupational groups. As an example, food handlers must get their typhoid vaccines and lab personnel who handle the Japanese Encephalitis (JE)  samples must get their JE vaccines. These are some examples of the value of  Occupational Medicine,” says Dr. Safwan.

Steps to Ensure Doctors’ Successful Career Change

Dr Safwan offers some steps which he believes would be helpful for doctors wanting to make a career change: 

  1. Know what you want in life – For Dr. Safwan, this meant keeping his options open for any good opportunity that would lead to a career improvement.
  2. Know what you really, really want – Dr. Safwan knew that he wanted to earn a bigger income and still enjoy a work-life balance. While seemingly repetitive, knowing what you really, really want is something that doctors must revisit several times to arrive at a truthful answer.
  3. Create a Linkedin Profile – This was his way of projecting himself and his accomplishments to potential employers.
  4. Obtain the best kind of certification possible that reflects your interest and provides a wide range of employment possibilities – For Dr. Safwan, that meant delving into the LFOM course. It reflects his interest, has a life-time value, and is recognized far and wide. 
  5. Keep your Linkedin and CV updated at all times.
  6. Upskill and reskill yourself in areas that would enhance you in your career of interest – For Dr. Safwan, that meant honing his interview and public speaking skills.

Life Lessons for Doctors’ Successful Career Change

Based on his experience, Dr. Safwan surmised that hard work, determination, and adequate research really paid off. Yes, he had to make huge sacrifices with his time, finances, and energy to obtain his LFOM certification, but it was well worth it! He is now reaping great benefits from it.

He also notes that in life, it’s not possible to HAVE IT ALL at the same time. “As long as you’re focused on your priority, you’ll be fine,” he adds. He notes that life revolves around three important elements: work, time, and money. Sometimes we work more, earn more, but have little time to enjoy what we’ve earned. At other times, we might have more of all three. 

“At one time, I had a limited income but had more time on my hands and I took the opportunity to work on myself. I took care of my diet and did workouts, but I couldn’t splurge on myself. But that’s okay, I was focused on leading a healthy lifestyle. In all honesty, I can’t see myself working round the clock to make lots of money but lack the time to enjoy a quality life or be able to take care of my health. That sort of life is not for me!” Dr. Safwan says emphatically.

In life, it’s not possible to HAVE IT ALL at the same time.

He also advises doctors not to compare themselves with other doctors as everyone has his/her own journey to make in life. It is wise to put on your blinkers and focus on the path that is ahead of you, and not on someone else’s path.

We hope Dr. Safwan’s inspiring story has energized and empowered you. Doctors’ successful career change is possible if you do what it takes. This dream can come true and it’s all up to you! 

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To find out more about non-clinical jobs for doctors in Malaysia check out our job vacancy and find inspiration from medical doctors who’ve made a career change in our case studies. Check out Medic Footprints Malaysia , and follow our MF Malaysia Instagram and Facebook pages to stay updated on our events, webinars, job vacancies and more.

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