6 physicians share their best career decisions

While some of physicians' worst career decisions had to do with finances, medical specialization and hiring decisions, accepting new opportunities and continuing education were a couple of decisions physicians told Becker's have been the best of their career so far.

Here, six physicians discuss the best decisions they have made in their career.

Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

David Sun, MD, PhD. Norton Healthcare (Louisville, Ky.): Medical school, graduate school and residency are rigorous and challenging, but extremely narrow in focus. We learn nothing about healthcare economics — how hospitals run, how an office is managed, how doctors get reimbursed. To really understand the industry, it's all on-the-job training and seeking out opportunities. If someone asks you to sit on a hospital committee or work on an administrative project, say "yes." First, it's the best way to challenge yourself to learn new things. Second, if you say no, they're never going to ask you again. It may be intimidating to be outside of that narrow focus, but the best decision that I made in my career was to say "yes."

Now I function as a practicing cranial neurosurgeon and as executive medical director for the entire Norton Neuroscience Institute. I interact with professionals from many backgrounds and perspectives — neurologists, neurosurgeons, psychologists, therapists and administrators — all with a central vision of caring for neuroscience patients. I work on the design of operating rooms and clinical spaces. All kinds of things that I was not trained to do.

I am always trying to elevate the care of my patients in the OR, but by saying "yes" to work outside my comfort zone, I am much more impactful in elevating care throughout the Norton Neuroscience Institute.

Vasu Appalaneni, MD. Dayton (Ohio) Gastroenterology: While I enjoyed learning during my gastroenterology fellowship at Wright State University, with my passion for in-depth learning and taking advantage of technology to improve patient care, I decided to pursue an advanced fellowship in endoscopic ultrasound at [the] Medical University of South Carolina. I am grateful for the exceptional services I could provide to my patients with this expertise.

The second best decision I made was to pursue my goal of doing an MBA. With this zeal, I joined one of the top business schools, Kellogg School of [Management] at Northwestern University.

Third, collaborating with One GI, a physician-led, [private equity] supported multistate GI platform, to continue growing sustainable practices providing [the] highest-quality gastrointestinal care.

Todd Tyson, MD. Baylor Scott & White Health (Dallas): The best decision I've made in my medical career was to relocate from a megalopolis to a small city a couple of hours away. Professionally, I've enjoyed having a smaller and more cohesive medical community and a superior quality of life for my family. Not to mention a 15-minute commute, maybe 20 in what passes for rush hour here.

Ernest Braxton, MD. Vail (Colo.) Summit Orthopaedics and Neurosurgery: The best career move I have made is getting an MBA during my neurosurgical residency. I got my MBA at the Tepper School of Business during time that was set aside to perform basic or clinical research. It was a controversial decision at the time, but this advanced professional degree is valuable for the modern spine surgeon working in academia, industry or private practice.

When working in academics, often department heads are faced with the challenge of optimizing budgets and managing their resources by using and interpreting quantitative outcome measures. Understanding quality metrics and negotiating for resources requires business sense. It is not enough to be a skilled surgeon or gifted researcher to excel in the competitive world of academics. It is now becoming a given that being selected to the highest levels in academics requires business experience. When working with industry, the MBA has helped me better understand their organizational goals and to speak from a common lexicon. I now have a better way of communicating my clinical problems in a way that the industry understands. More importantly, in a way that the industry cares about. I now can relate how the market perceives their product and how to get stakeholders aligned.

Lauren Demosthenes, MD. University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville: I participated in the Association of Professors of Gynecology and Obstetrics Scholars and Leaders course to enhance my skills in academic medicine. [It was a] wonderful opportunity to learn, network and meet friends from around the country. I would encourage anyone working in a teaching environment to find the national group that supports these efforts. This experience opened doors for me to present talks at other national meetings.

I visited my son in D.C. and decided to reach out to the American College of OB-GYN. I emailed the policy vice president and told her that I had some ideas and opinions that I wanted to talk about. We set up a meeting while I was in D.C., and I shared my thoughts. That too opened doors to become involved with ACOG on a national level and to start some education initiatives around high-value medical care. My take-home message here is not to be afraid of cold calling people in high places. They are often very responsive and welcoming.

Both of the above have allowed me to work with very forward-thinking people, which reduces my risk of burnout. I've made great contacts around the country who I keep up with routinely. Both of these experiences of pushing myself to connect with people outside of my bubble put me in a position to become the senior medical director of Babyscripts. I leaned in to offering my expertise and was offered the position.

Lisa Gray, DO. Providence Alaska Medical Center (Anchorage): I am a cardiologist, and about eight years ago I took a course to learn radial artery access for cardiac catheterization. It enhanced my cath skills immensely and has kept me relevant. The [American College of Cardiology] had a campaign, "get onboard with radial artery access or get left behind." The course was at the Swedish [Medical Center] in Seattle. My partners were supportive, and now a femoral access case is a rarity.

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