Physician Career Transition- Shifting from a Noun to a Verb!

“We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing-an actor; a writer–I am a person who does things–I write, I act–and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”          Stephen Fry

Brainstorming career change requires a shift in mindset. Opening our minds to new possibilities demands moving away from the static identity noun attached to our profession and moving towards  an expanded and creative appreciation of what we actually do. Embedded in the phrase ” I am a physician” is not only an understanding that we have gone through a particular education and training, but also commonly a limited description of what we do – seeing and treating patients in a clinical setting.

Unfortunately, if we are considering career transitions into non-clinical or even non-medical fields, this narrow description of what we do restricts us to a label that can keep us confined and stuck. We need to shift to a space where possibility and imagination thrive and where we can be open to exploring the myriad of opportunities available to us. 


One simple, powerful way to do this is to shift our thinking from being a noun to verb.


Change  “Who am I?” to “What do I do?”






To practice this, try the exercise below:

Who am I?

  • I am a physician

What do I do?

  • I take care of people.
  • I listen to people.
  • I hear stories.
  • I solve problems.

    I make decisions.

    I mentor others.

    I write.                                                               

  • I  improve technology.
  • I mediate disputes.
  • I teach.
  • I connect with people.
  • I do research

Obviously this list is almost endless.Practicing this exercise not only dramatically expands your understanding of the multitude of diverse skills that you possess, it catapults you into brainstorming a whole realm of different opportunities where you could use these skills. Take a look at this list to see some suggestions:

  • Explore Informatics.
  • Explore the Pharmaceutical industry.
  • Explore Medical Writing.
  • Consider Media Work.
  • Click here to see a more comprehensive list.

In addition, practice this exercise with your non-professional identities. For example:

Who am I?

I am a musician.

What do I do?

I hear music.

I discover peace.

I offer healing.

I create connection.

I express compassion.

Read how the creative and expansive beliefs of the incomparable Yo-Yo Ma about himself as a musician and performer have influenced his impact throughout the world.

Above all, remind yourself that the world holds countless opportunities for you to share your many talents!

Jacqueline Huntly, MD.MPH is a certified physician development coach, and founder of Athasmed, LLC., a physician career and leadership development consultancy in New York. As a physician who is board-certified in public health and general preventive medicine, she has experienced firsthand the challenges of navigating career change. She began coaching in 2007.


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