Doctors, It’s Your Life – Live the Life You Want!

“Doctors must digest the fact that this is their life. Don’t let people dictate what you’re supposed to do with your life, and you wake up one day, unhappy about how things turned out.” said Dr. Tracie Gan. This is her sober advice to young doctors; a creed which she herself has lived by. In essence, doctors ought to live the life they want by identifying a career that’s right for them. To do that, they must know themselves and be willing to try new things.

Dr. Gan herself had transitioned out of clinical medicine to an MNC offering medical evacuation and offshore medical services. She was appointed as a Medical Advisor. She won accolades and awards within the MNC for being a multi-talented and dependable employee. By personality, she’s a woman who loves a good challenge and having made it at the MNC, she was ready take on new challenges. So, she moved to a Singapore-based Telehealth company, a startup which has a presence all over Asia. Currently, she is the Medical Services Head and the Medical Director of the company and was hired to set things up so the company’s presence can be felt in Malaysia.

“Don’t let people dictate what you’re supposed to do with your life, and you wake up one day, unhappy about how things turned out.”

Dr. Tracie Gan’s Backstory

Back in her Houseman days, the hospital system and the existing career pathway at the time did not appeal to her. This was something she knew from her first day as a Houseman. When the MOs asked what she wanted to do with her life, she said, “I don’t know but I know that I don’t want to do my Masters.” That response left some MOs scratching their heads while others were offended by her words. The fact was, her work experience in the hospital seemed unchallenging and mundane to her, and boredom set in rather quickly.

Dr. Tracie Gan

She wasn’t interested in filling out the logbooks either because she had no plans of becoming a surgeon, so she let the other HOs fight it out for those books. Some assumed she was lazy but that wasn’t the case. It was simply that she knew that the hospital life was not for her. She found the four walls of the hospital to be confining to her existence.

“I don’t know [what I want to do with my medical career] but I know that I don’t want to do my Masters [in medicine]!”

So why did she get into medicine, you might ask? Only because her father gave her two career options – become a doctor or an accountant. She opted to become a doctor. But for Dr. Gan, becoming a doctor wasn’t a mistake. She simply needed to find an area of work within clinical medicine that appealed to her.

Identifying a Career That’s Right for You

Her sixth posting as a Houseman was to the Anesthesiology department. While colleagues patted her back saying how lucky she was to be posted to a department where there wasn’t much to do, this development troubled Dr. Gan. She didn’t want to not do anything and the prospect scared her!

She made a beeline to the HR department at the hospital to switch to the Emergency Department (ED). Her thought was that the Emergency Department would offer her greater versatility of skills and experience. That request was promptly turned down. Undeterred, she walked into a meeting of the Heads of Department at her hospital and informed the ED Head that she wanted to serve there. She was immediately accepted as the Head needed the additional manpower.

The decision to work at the ED was the beginning of great career opportunities for Dr. Gan although at the time, she couldn’t see it. She continued to wonder if she was on the right path career-wise. For her MOship training, she was posted to Sabah where her ED training became handy. She engaged in medical evacuations stating that, “We got into choppers and retrieved patients from the rural areas.”  About a year and a half into this position, boredom and frustration set in mainly from wondering where her career life was headed. She did not feel challenged and the remuneration within the hospital system was unimpressive.

“After observing the company culture and gaining the trust of the people, the changes you make will be accepted by those around you.”

So, she applied to an MNC known for offering medical evacuations and offshore medical services. Initially, she was turned down because according to them, she was lacking in experience. They wanted someone with at least five years of experience. But a year later, they reached out to her and said they wanted to offer the position to her. Their sense was that a younger person would easily adapt to the culture and the flow of the company compared to an older individual.

Her Career at the MNC

Some great happenings took place for Dr. Gan’s at the MNC. She was awarded the Employee of the Year 2018/2019 Award and other awards such as the Manager Can Do Award and rose from Medical Advisor to become Chief Medical Advisor. She credits her success to her high resilience, adaptability and her can-do attitude which impressed her bosses. The bulk of her duty involved guiding medics providing medical services offshore and determining if a patient needed to be retrieved from an offshore site. She also engaged in wellness programs for corporate clients, wrote proposals, delivered talks, and ran workshops.

Another reason for her success at the MNC was her oratory and presentation skills as well as her PR skills. She was able to communicate with marketing and business development managers. “I think my bosses saw me as an all-rounder, able to do many things. I was going out there to sell projects!” she said. In addition, she had remarkable team support from her manager and her team-mates. Because her work was shift-based, her team always had her back when needed.  The demands of her career, at times, involved 24-hour workdays.

Being in her 30’s and engaging in shift-based work despite having risen to the rank of Chief Medical Officer somehow lost its appeal for her and she began to feel the “familiar discomfort”. This time she was seeking some work-life balance and a better quality of life for herself. Happily, she was offered with open arms, the position of Medical Services Head/ Medical Director at the Telehealth company.

“I think my bosses saw me as an all-rounder, able to do many things. I was going out there to sell projects!”

Her Role at the Telehealth Company

“This role implies managing everything operational such as setting up clinics, SOPs, workflow etc. There were many things that needed to be put in place. But it also involved fun things like generating revenue for the company, coming up with business ideas, reaching out to possible partners such as companies and agencies to fund projects and programs which are mutually beneficial,” said Dr. Gan with much delight.

Life Lessons for Doctors

Dr. Gan shared some of the most important lessons she gleaned from her transitioning experience which she knows will benefit doctors:

  1. Doctors would be wise to manage their own expectations when entering a new place of work. For the first six months, doctors will be absorbing information and learning about their new job. “During this time, you’re bound to fumble. It’s also the time to build new work relationships and allies. Don’t start out on the wrong footing with the people around you,” she said. Therefore, it is important for doctors to pace themselves and be reasonable in their expectations of their new career and workplace at this time.

“Stop hanging around with other doctors and start talking to people from other fields if you want more knowledge and wish to network with those outside of clinical medicine.”

  1. Observe the company culture first before making changes. It’s often difficult for staff to see a newbie come in and immediately make changes to an organization. If a system is broken and would cause the company to fail in their objectives, then change is necessary but only after gaining the trust of the people at the workplace.  Dr Gan observed that compared to MNCs, changes are more easily adopted at startups. “After observing the company culture and gaining people’s trust, the changes you make will be accepted by those around you,” said Dr. Gan. This was the advice given to her by her former General Manager at the MNC she worked at.
  1. “Stop hanging around with other doctors and start talking to people from other fields if you want to pick up more knowledge and wish to network with those outside of clinical medicine,” said Dr. Gan. Hanging out with doctors will result in introversion in a doctor and makes him/her less aware of things that are needed to make a successful career transition. A naturally curious person, Dr. Gan learned about marketing by hanging out with people in marketing and picked up some knowledge and skills. By picking up the traits of marketing, she was able to enrich her company when she applied what she had learned to her job.

“Life is too short. We only have one life. So, why do something you hate? Why not do something you like?”

  1. Whatever the field a doctor wants to get into, it is expedient for him/her to get the relevant certification. For example, if a doctor wants to pursue an MBA, he/she must be very clear as to why they’re getting the degree. There is no point in pursuing an MBA simply because everyone else is pursuing it, unless of course, the doctor is interested in managing a business organization or a hospital or establishing a very strong network. “I have a few certifications. One of them is Product Management Certification from the Product School. It was through this course that I learned about managing stakeholders and persuading others to accept my ideas. We weren’t taught this in medical school and this knowledge has helped in my career outside of clinical medicine,” she added
  1. Lastly, “Life is too short. We only have one life. So, why do something you hate? Why not do something you like? It doesn’t matter if your parents are going to be upset or those around you make sneering remarks about you studying medicine for so many years and then simply quitting it. I have been on the receiving end of all this!” exclaimed Dr. Gan.  The truth is, doctors ought to expect some pushback from parents when transitioning to a career outside of clinical medicine. But once parents see their offspring happy, making a good income, and thriving in their careers, most of them become supportive of their offspring’s new career.

Dr. Gan’s parting words to doctors are, “Don’t live life to fulfill others’ expectations for your life. This is your life. So, live the life you want!”

Dr. Tracie Gan will be speaking at our September 2022 Diverse Careers for Doctors Webinar. Book your seats here!

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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