In this podcast episode, I speak with Dr. Robert Gleeson about the questions we might ask ourselves before we quit medicine. As an author, physician executive, and leadership coach, he has explored burnout and possible career transition with over 100 physicians. He recommends we do some serious soul-searching before throwing in the towel on our clinical careers.

Before getting into the interview, I present another podcast by one of our physician colleagues.

First – A Podcast Review

This one is called The Happy Doc. Here is how the Happy Doc describes his mission: “The Happy Doc is about bringing joy to the work that you do. It’s about understanding how to work on personal and systemic levels to make lasting change in the lives of healing professionals. While the focus has been mainly on physicians, the principles we learn in our podcast, blog posts, reading materials, and group sessions, apply to nearly all professionals.” He goes on to say: “Our website brings inspirational, creative, and happy health professionals to you, get ready to learn how you can be a happy doctor too!”

Taylor Brana, D.O., produces the podcast. He is an intern, just starting his postgraduate education in Philadelphia.

He mostly publishes interviews. But sometimes he presents a shorter episode about his experiences as an intern, or snippets of information gathered from other sources.  I really enjoyed his conversation with Pamela Wible, the founder of Ideal Medical Care, and author of Physician Suicide Letters Answered(this is an affiliate link*).

His other guests are equally unique and inspirational. You can find his podcast by searching for The Happy Doc on the Apple Podcast App or Stitcher, or by going to his website at

Before You Quit Medicine

I first met Bob Gleeson at an American Association for Physician Leadership meeting. He is an internist, author, physician executive and leadership coach. He has a unique experience in the corporate world, having worked for 27 years for Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance.

After leaving that role, he worked in preventive cardiology and hospital patient safety. He also published a book – Lipidology a Primer: The What, Why, and How of Better Lipid Management 2nd Edition (this is an affiliate link*).

before you quit medicine look for rainbow

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

He is now focused on coaching and consulting through his company MD2Leader. His latest book. Effective Physician Leadership: The What, the Why, and the How, will be released in early 2018.

I believe coaching can be very helpful in developing our leadership skills, as I discussed in Unlock Leadership Through Coaching. Coaching is a good tool to enhance personal and professional development.

During the interview, Bob describes coaching sessions with physicians who are unhappy with clinical practice. He notes that most of the frustrations physicians experience come from working in dysfunctional, poorly designed systems. He describes questions we can ask ourselves to identify the root causes of, and potential solutions to, our frustrations. We can then avoid futile attempts to find that elusive perfect career. And rekindle the joy in our medical careers.

Questions to Ask Before You Quit Medicine

Here are some of the questions he recommends we ask ourselves, if we are unhappy in our current circumstances:

  • Why am I here? What originally gave me joy and satisfaction?
  • What is my current problem?
  • Why has it shown up?
  • What have I tried, so far, that has not worked to address this problem?
  • How might I resolve the cause of my current frustrations?

We talk about some of the common attributes that physicians share. These traits often lead to a sense of hopelessness in these situations. We tend to be overly independent and self-reliant. We would be better served by seeking out help, by collaborating more. Our lack of collaboration, together with our need for perfection, can be very draining. This contributes to our desire to quit medicine.

He discusses how we can use mentors to help identify solutions to our problems. He also describes other questions that a coach might use to discover solutions to the problems causing these frustrations. Examples include:

  • If money was not an issue, what would I do?
  • If I were queen or king, what would I do to solve this problem?

Coaching Follow-up

Most coaching encounters end with a commitment to implement new ideas. These commitments are in writing, and will be followed-up at subsequent meetings. Accountability is a big part of the coaching experience. Then repeating this process over time results in gradual progress toward the resolution of our frustrations.

Bob has seen many examples of physicians, by creating solutions to practice frustrations, re-discovering the joy of practice:

  • Developing a culture in which medical assistants, nurses and advanced practitioners are all functioning at the top of their license, leaving physicians to spend more time on direct patient care;
  • Creating teams to improve patient flow and eliminate bottlenecks;
  • Helping other teams within the organization solve their practice problems, taking on a leadership role in process and quality improvement.
before you quit medicine recapture joy

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

In Closing

At the end of our conversation, we spent a bit of time discussing Bob's soon-to-be-released book Effective Physician Leadership: The What, the Why and the How. As I explained during the interview, Bob provided an advance copy to me. And I really enjoyed reading it.

It addressed all of the important issues that physician leaders face, including a list of the essential skills of an effective leader and the common mistakes young leaders make. He provides practical advice about managing change, thinking strategically, leading process improvement, building strong teams, giving feedback and dozens of other important skills.

As soon as it is available for purchase, I will add a link to these notes and add it to my Resources Page.

Next Time

In my next podcast episode, I will describe How to Quietly Build Leadership Skills Serving a Nonprofit. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on the Apple Podcast App and sign up for my newsletter so you don't miss it, using the form below.

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Here is today's quote:

martin luther king jr quote before you quit medicine

Please, join me next time on Physician Nonclinical Careers.

Here is a list of resources mentioned in this episode:

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