Interview with Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones

In today's podcast, Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones explains how she helps physicians (or medics) follow their career ambitions in new ways. 

In 2014, Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones was an NHS Urology Specialist Trainee working in Blackburn (in northern England). Having graduated from medicine at the age of 22 at Nottingham, she worked for several years as a surgical trainee in the NHS. But she was yearning for something more.

She moved to South Africa and worked as a trauma surgeon for nearly 2 years. That revitalized her love of medicine. And she realized that a new challenge and experience had helped her to gain the satisfaction she needed to develop as a professional and individual.

She decided to return to the UK where she noticed that many doctors were experiencing similar issues she had faced. They were stressed and burned out, feeling doubtful about their careers, and considering leaving the profession. So, she and her school friend Sara Sabin created Medic Footprints. It was designed as a community and network for doctors exploring alternative careers and support.

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Medic Footprints

Dr. Bubbers-Jones and her friend chose the name of their company because they only serve doctors, and they were seeing the “footprints” of these unhappy doctors all over the world. 

The website has created a large collection of free articles, videos, and courses to help physicians overcome burnout and pursue new career options. Medical Footprints also provides a premium membership, with access to coaching and other premium services.

The site provides content to nurture, support, and educate doctors. The organization also works with companies to recruit doctors looking for nontraditional careers in several international locations. 

Dr. Bubbers-Jones Advice

The best investment you could ever make in yourself is to get a career coach. Finding a career coach is not always an easy thing… And it's basically just unlocking a key that you have inside of you, and just helping you to realize what you need to be doing moving forward.


At Medic Footprints you will be able to access plenty of free advice and instruction. While there, you should consider joining the site as a member, so that you can access even more actionable premium content designed to help you find your next job. It includes over 50 hours of webinar instruction in diverse career pathways, resumé writing, networking, coaching, and other tools.

NOTE: Look below for a transcript of today's episode.

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Transcription PNC Podcast Episode 248

Are Career Ambitions Beyond Conventional Practice Within Reach? - Interview with Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones

John: I'm really happy to have found my guest for today's episode. Her name is Abeyna Bubbers-Jones, and she was a national health service urology specialist trainee working in Blackburn in England. That was in 2014. And having graduated from medicine at the age of 22 at Nottingham, she worked for several years as a surgical trainee in the NHS, but she wanted to do something more. So, she moved to South Africa and worked as a trauma surgeon for nearly two years.

Revitalizing her love for medicine, realizing that a new challenge and experience had helped her to gain the real satisfaction that she needed to develop as a professional and an individual. She decided to return to the UK where she noticed that many doctors were experiencing similar issues she had faced. They were stressed and burned out, feeling doubtful about their careers with low self-worth and considering leaving the profession.

That led her to create Medic Footprints with her school friend, Sarah Saban. It was designed as a community and a network for doctors exploring alternative careers and support. So today we're going to get into it with Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones. The title of today's episode is "Are Career Ambitions Beyond Conventional Practice Within Reach?"

Sometimes it's just amazing to me as long as I've been doing this podcast and working with physicians is that I can find a resource that's actually been out there for many years that I've never known about and I'm just blown away. That is specifically about today's guest because she helps physicians just like we do here at the NonClinical Physicians podcast. And I just want to say hello to Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones. Welcome.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: Hey John, thank you so much for having me on the podcast. Yeah, I can't believe it. I think I've seen you about but I haven't reached out until now. So, there you go.

John: I guess part of it is I'm in the US, you're in the UK and you serve a huge audience I think over there where I'm kind of focused on the US. Although I've had recent guests from the UK and I have one coming up that I haven't interviewed yet from France. So, it's fun to reach outside the US borders.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: Great thing about meeting like-minded, I say, leaders in this area because we are leaders in this area, is that we are sharing a narrative, which is so, so similar across borders, across the world. And that's one of the things that I realized early on in my journey with Medica Footprints. But even though there are lots of similarities and narratives, the real power... I'm not sure that was the right word... power that you have is that you connect with your followers at a local level, which is always really important especially when you are the spokesperson for nonclinical careers in your region of the world. And that's why people follow you and that's how you grow. So yeah, we've done such an amazing job clearly.

John: And I think it's great for us here to hear about you because I have so many physicians that come to the US, foreign medical grads from all over the world. And for whatever reason, either they can't get a residency or they move around because of their spouse, whatever, and they can't get that typical clinical job they're looking for. And they have a license in another country or training in another country. So, I think you're going to just be such a benefit to those people that have been following my podcast for a long time. Why don't you tell us a little bit about your story? I think there was some burnout involved there or some disillusionment and it led to things. So, we definitely want to hear that.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: A lot of these stories start with burnout and disillusionment. It's like the typical rags to riches story for a doctor. It's hilarious when you say that actually, but yeah, you're right. But I don't think my story actually started out with burnout. Disillusionment, yes, definitely. I went into medicine. It was my first degree. So, obviously, in the US, you do medicine as a postgrad, whereas in the UK and other countries, we just go straight in. And so, we have to prepare ourselves from actually quite an early age. You don't know what you're really getting into. And you have kind of this dream vision of being a doctor, like the TV shows, which is not as sexy as it looks, I have to say.

And so, when I finally graduated and got into medicine, my first two years as a foundation house officer, it just wasn't the story that I signed up for. And as I described to other people, it was like being a glorified medical secretary. A lot of the work we did was mainly kind of writing and discharge summaries and writing. Yeah, you do clinical histories, but then someone else would come and do it again and again. So, a lot of repetition I found in healthcare.

You then start questioning "Is this going to be my life for the rest of my career as a doctor?" Then you see your seniors who are burned out themselves and saying, "I am retiring very shortly and I'm only 30" kind of thing.

And so, I was always looking for other opportunities as a doctor, beyond the conventional that was available to me, or even beyond healthcare, for example, because going into medicine, you have to demonstrate that you've got a lot of extracurricular activities behind your belts. So, you've got to demonstrate that you're a very kind of rounded person. You've got lots of skill sets. You're adaptable, you're talented, blah, blah, blah. And then you go into medicine and all of that is stripped out.

John: Right. That's true.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: I didn't actually want that bit. They just want you to follow the rules and the guidelines and everything else it's set up, which has its place, don't get me wrong. But as I always say, you are not fitting the person with the job. I'm an occupational health physician now, by the way, guys. So, this is why I talk like this. You're not fitting the person with the job, and this is why the problem of disillusion and burnout amongst medics is significantly high because that is a really poor fit for the job that they've been asked to do full stop. That was really a summary of my actual journey, but I'll tell you very briefly as a result of exploration of that question of "What else is there to do?" I ended up going to South Africa to work in trauma surgery for two years after my core surgical training. It was the best couple of years of my life professionally and actually as a person, because I worked in a different medical setting, lots of very, very different challenges, but rewarding in so many other ways.

I realized that the problem wasn't my choice of career pathway, it was just the work environment. About saying how I could address that, if at all, and also how do I actually choose a pathway that works for me because the pathway that is designed by the institutional system, particularly in the UK, the public health system is one that's designed specifically for workforce planning. But as we know, one size does not always fit all. And if you are looking to do something else, you've got to do it on your own volition, like most people in the real world.

John: Right.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: So, that was the beginning of the journey. And then realizing that my problem was a problem shared amongst all of my colleagues. And the starting footprints as a community for doctors exploring diverse and alternative career opportunities, providing them with a network, information, resources, opportunities, and really growing that. And then in the process of that, realizing that it wasn't just a UK problem, it was an international problem. And here we are.

John: Yes.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: That's the start of the journey.

John: I just want to highlight some of the things you said that we've talked about before here on the podcast,. that basically many physicians, if not all of them, choose to become a physician when they're a child. Even if you're 20 years old, your brain is not mature. So, there's no way you really know.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: I'd say younger, like age 12, 13. You can make the decision at that age.

John: Yes, absolutely. That's true. And sometimes it just doesn't fit the individual personality, the strengths, the weaknesses, the strong suits, whatever. So, it's more common. And I think the systems, unfortunately, whether the NHS or here or wherever it just doesn't seem to be flexible and it doesn't seem to be responding. Then people like us have to say, "Look, come on, there are other things you can do. Many of which are actually built on your medical background. And so, let's get going." I agree hundred percent. When you sort of started thinking about this, I know we're going to talk about Medic Footprints, but that probably was not your first response. What did you start doing that would help yourself and would help others? How did you start to make that transition?

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: It was one morning I woke up and I was in Blackburn. And for those of you that don't know the UK, which I didn't know where Blackburn was when I got the job, to be honest. It's north of Manchester. Everyone knows where Manchester is. It's north of Manchester. It's not exactly a place where people would just generally go to, unless you're a doctor where you end up anywhere.

I woke up one morning, and I was like, "Hey, I'm a London girl." I was like, "What am I doing here?" Even though I really loved the job, I was doing urology. I realized I was far away from my family and I felt like I needed more control and autonomy because I was again applying for another job, which could be anywhere in the country. I did not want to live my life like that.

I really was making a very clear decision that I needed to do something outside of that, that wasn't relying on the public sector, to be a doctor. And then I spoke to my friend who's not a medic. And we were like, "Let's just do something. Let's just start a business. Let's just start a company." And that's how I was born. And initially, it was supposed to be for international recruitment, but we realized we didn't really enjoy calling Australia at 12:00 at midnight, and we didn't have time for that.

So, that's how it changed to, really just supporting doctors locally, because it is the local narratives that connect with doctors. And through that, I learned the really hard way, about running a business which as a doctor, I had no experience in whatsoever. Really highlighting as a doctor in the public sector where we don't talk about money. Money it's not a thing in the public sector that you actually talk about on a day-to-day basis unlike in the US. I know it's completely different.

And so just learning about business, finance, marketing, lead generation, and growing communities. Actually, turning that into a business model that's sustainable. None of that was in my vocabulary. And it actually took some time to really recognize who we are, who do we serve exactly, and how we're going to grow as a self-sustaining organization or company.

And I think that's actually really genuinely become more apparent having learned, having worked with both doctors and companies, particularly in the last few years, and especially with health technology growing as a new sector, providing a lot of opportunities for doctors, but really not having any real segue for doctors to get into it easily enough. And that's where the greatest need is I believe at the moment.

John: Okay. Well, certainly technology has helped us. It's been a challenge, of course, to learn all of it, but it's certainly allowing us to do things in a few days or weeks or months that 10 years ago you'd have to be able to program a computer and all that. So that has been kind of a two-edged sword. All right. Were there some certain resources you used to learn some of this business? Was it your associate? Was it just going online and reading and didn't go and get an MBA or anything like that?

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: That's the joy of this. I know as doctors we tend to be high qualification junkies.

John: Right.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: I've got like a billion letters after my name already. And I think the business actually really worked for me because I decided I'm not going to go and get extra qualifications. MBA is the thing that a lot of my colleagues have done. But it does not replace the joys and challenges of running a business from scratch. And that's where all my learnings have been just by doing. Actually, I find that quite refreshing, just to learn at pace in real time. And I think MBA's are very good for networking from what I understand. But if you are running a business, it's quite difficult to do both in practice as well as being a practicing doctor at the same time.

John: Yeah.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: No, no, there wasn't anything specific. I might have done a few this here and there, but a lot of it was just talking to people, talking to other business owners, learning from experience, and trial and error. There is a lot of trial and error in business. And really kind of responding flexibly to market changes. What doctors want; what doctors don't want? What companies want, what companies don't want? And actually, designing services that fit into both sides as a marketplace essentially.

John: I think we'll see entrepreneurial physicians I've talked to and entrepreneurs in general. In fact, my wife actually runs a business. None of them have MBAs for the most part because they don't really teach you how to be an entrepreneur at the level we're talking about. Just starting bootstrapping something from the ground up. So, it sounds like a story that we've heard before, that we just get out there and do it. You learn so much from doing.

Now I want you to tell us about Medic Footprints. What does that name represent? Where did that come from? And then what did it look like when you started? And to me, when I look at the website now, which is, put that plug in and we'll do it again later. There's a lot going on there. So, tell us the story about the company.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: Yeah. As I indicated earlier, John, when we started Medic Footprints, me and my friend decided what name we're going to call our company. And because we were looking at international recruitment at the time, it just seems to fit Medic Footprints. And I'm really glad that we've stuck with that name actually because "footprints" being all over the world, it's quite flexible and can go anywhere. But Medic because we only serve doctors.

So, we're all about doctors. There have been so many times in the past where people have said, "Well, why don't you do nurses? Why don't you do X healthcare professional?" But the quality of what we do is grounded in that niche. And again, that narrative that doctors have, which is really unique to any other healthcare professional.

And that is the strength of why our brand is so strong amongst doctors and also why we work so well with companies because we know doctors, we are doctors. And I think when you start diluting that brand, it can really affect your business and your business model. We moved over from international recruitment because it just didn't work with our lifestyles, frankly. I didn't like the word recruitment because it kind of has a negative connotation to it.

John: Head hunter.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: Yeah. But we are connectors. We nurture doctors, we support them and we educate them. We inspire them, we provide opportunities. But we also work with companies, in the broader sense it's recruitment because everyone understands what that word is, but we do more in the way of employer branding work, headhunting, specialist consultancy if they're recruiting doctors on mass or even one. Because we find that a lot of companies just don't know what they're looking for in doctors actually, and they don't make the most of them.

That's how the company has changed over the last few years. So, it does look quite different. If you look at the website, we have built up a huge resource of information, which is for doctors, all free. Well, most of it's free. We've also got a premium membership as well. And that's so that they can get started on their own journey. Because a lot of this is off the beaten path, off the treadmill.

And I find that most doctors just are confused and need a bit of clarity as to what options are out there, permission to go and do it. Just those two things. An inspiration and the mindset you need to become successful and whatever success is to that individual. Success means different things for different people. Yeah, that's where we are now.

John: When you're looking at a website and you see some different categories, sometimes it's not a hundred percent apparent, but I see that you have basically written material there, articles, maybe you call a blog post or whatever, but just some interesting and helpful information. That way you have videos, you have courses that are free. You hold some events from time to time. What are those events like?

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: Oh, the events. We actually started off with networking events in person, that was when most things were done in person. And then actually we navigated to online webinars way before the pandemic happened, I have to say. Way before that happened. And that enabled us to grow our reach. The webinars, they generally tend to be based on doctors sharing their story related to a specific topic or I say specialty very loosely. And one of our last events, for example, was an online conference. We do in-person conferences as well. We haven't done so for a few years because of the pandemic. But our last event was an in-person conference on the smaller medical specialties. So, we're not all about leaving medicine entirely. It's actually just widening, raising awareness for other opportunities for doctors, whatever that may be.

For example, I'm a practicing doctor. I work as an occupational health physician and when I changed from surgery to occupational health, I didn't know occupational health. I had not heard of it. I'm doing it now because I went looking, but there are like at least 30 plus probably more specialties that doctors aren't told about and actually would solve a lot of the problems that they face in the way of looking for something that's more flexible work-life balance. So that conference was really kind of filling that gap to educate and inform doctors and what else was out there, if they still wanted to keep their registration numbers and practice from a clinical and nonclinical capacity. But in other specialties, they are actually looking for more doctors. So, that was that.

And then we have been doing live webinars, twice a week. Again, interviewing some really influential doctors in Industry predominantly on their journey. Really focusing a bit of the "how", but also the mindset behind how they achieved what they achieved. And I think one thing that really binds them all is that they use the word courage, but they have the courage to say, "This is not for me." Against adversity, you have a lot of colleagues that are around you saying, "Are you crazy?"

I spoke to an ex-doctor today who told me that they left. They quit their job or they wanted to quit their job, but they didn't know how, because it wasn't really easy to quit their job in this particular hospital. And when they finally found out the route to quitting, they were then told to have a psychological assessment to make sure they were certain to actually leave that job. And then they said, "Oh, I'm going to go into the media." And they were like, "Really?" Like they're questioning it. And we shouldn't be treated like that, as human beings, you know what I mean? The psychological assessment because we decided against a job that actually is not fulfilling for some of us, it is not rewarding. It's the wrong job. I just got into the wrong job. I realize it is the wrong job. I don't want to be harming my patients because I hate my job. I am leaving and doing something that I know I could love. Like I don't need a psych assessment for that.

John: Yeah. Right. It should be the other way around. You need a psych assessment if you don't do that.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: Yeah. Exactly, exactly. They're doing the right thing. And I see that come back and say, "Hey, I've played the field so to speak. And I think medicine is for me for now." And then we'll leave again.

John: Right. Now I saw on the site too, that maybe these are paid services. And I want to distinguish that because I just want to understand it too. There are some coaching opportunities. I mean, to receive coaching, link up and there might be a service to help with your CV or resume, that kind of thing. These are practical things when you're starting to change your job. And then how is that different from let's say being a member? Like the membership.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: The membership, the real benefit of that is we've got a whole lot of resources behind a wall that you don't see. A lot of that is the video content that we record on webinars on various specialties. On practical tips, interviews with influencers, hundreds and hundreds, actually. So, what you see on the website is just the tip of the iceberg basically. The other benefit is that we get discounts off events with other partners. Quite a lot of the time at significant discounts. So, we offer that to our members as well. And all the members get one to one with me.

John: Oh, that's worth it right there.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: Exactly. If you do anything one-to-one with me, I have at least eight years, if not more, experience working with hundreds and thousands of doctors and companies. So, in half an hour, doctors usually go off with more clarity on their next steps, usually speaking with me. I am not officially a coach or anything like that, but I do have a wealth of expertise in that domain. That's non-biased at all. As I said, I'm still a doctor. I am not pro- or anti-anything, but I am pro-happier and healthier doctors. That's what I'm "pro."

John: Awesome. Again, there's so much there. It should really be checked out. So, go to listeners. One of the reasons we do the podcast is to give resources. If you don't check them out, you're not going to know whether they're going to help you. Any advice for my listeners, just in general? A lot of the listeners here are frustrated. They don't know what direction to go. You touched before on the mindset, that's a big part of it. And then there's just where to look and how to find these jobs. So, any kind of general advice for physicians who are kind of in that stage in their careers?

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: Yeah. I would say the best investment you could ever make in yourself is to get a career coach. Finding a career coach is not always an easy thing and that's why we have, on our website at least, we've got a list of career coaches that we've approved who specifically work with doctors who are transitioning. A lot of them are based in the UK, but they serve people across the world. And I know some of the coaches are working with people in India and South Africa. It's timeless in that sense.

But as doctors, we pay a lot of money to go on courses and blah, blah, blah. But we don't really spend any money on ourselves as individuals, as human beings. And so, there's a huge return on investment in any time and money you spend on a career coach because they won't tell you what to do. They should not be telling you what to do. They will help you gain clarity in your next steps. And it's basically just unlocking a key that you have inside of you and just helping you to realize what you need to be doing moving forward. Whether that's a one-off, whether that's several, it's like therapy, but for specific people's careers.

That's the number one advice that I would give. I say that to pretty much everyone that I speak to because personally it's really rewarding for me and for the business enabling me to support other doctors better. I really make an impact. So yeah, that's number one. If you're confused, get a career coach, a hundred percent.

John: Yeah. And I remind my listeners that when I was a chief medical officer, and this is true almost of any major corporation, all the leaders get coaching. I had a friend who when he changed jobs, nonclinical jobs from hospital to hospital or organization to organization, one of the things in his contract was you're going to provide me with a business or professional coach. So, they're definitely worth their weight in gold. And if you get someone else to pay for it all the better. But it's excellent advice. There's so much we could go into here. But I just wanted to get this 30-minute snapshot of what's going on in the UK with Medic Footprints and the fact that there's this whole enterprise over there. I really thank you for coming on today and talking to us about this.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: Thank you so much, John, for your time. And my final question is will you feature on our podcast?

John: Oh, I'd be happy to. Absolutely.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: Thank you so much. We're really looking forward to it. Let's continue the conversation.

John: Yeah, we should. And the other thing is to have you back here because there are so many things you're doing. I would be more than pleased to have you come back and talk about just one specific new project or goal or course or event you're doing. So, we'll have you back for sure.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: I'd love to do that. I'd love to do that. Thank you.

John: You are welcome. So, with that, I will say goodbye and thanks again for being here.

Dr. Abeyna Bubbers-Jones: And thank you, John. It was such a pleasure. And yeah, looking forward to doing more.


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