What you need to know about the forces reshaping our industry.


January 22, 2018

They were teachers, journalists—even Rockettes. Now they're doctors. Here's why they made the change.

Daily Briefing

    An increasing number of people are deciding to become doctors later in life, after they've already established a different career—and their winding professional paths give them a unique perspective on medicine, Leah Samuel writes for STAT News.

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    Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) show the fraction of first-year residents who are over the age of 29 is increasing. Geoffrey Young, who oversees student affairs at AAMC, said, "These are people who may have been interested in medicine, but for whatever reason chose not to pursue it, and later decided that now is the time."

    Bringing prior work experience to the medical field

    Many second-career medical professionals find ways to apply the skills they learned in their previous careers to medicine, Samuel writes.

    For instance, Clayton Cowl, a pulmonologist at the Mayo Clinic, worked as a reporter before attending medical school at Northwestern University. "Interviewing skills are extremely important medical skills, and not really emphasized enough in medicine," Cowl said. "I think that as a reporter, you really have to listen to get the story. Doctors don't do that as much or as well."

    Deirdre Mattina, director of the Women's Heart Center and the Henry Ford Heart and Vascular Institute in Detroit, danced with the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes before graduating from the University of Michigan's medical school. According to Mattina, her time as a dancer taught her the discipline she needs as a cardiologist.

    "Today I work 10 hours a day, and when I go home there are more journals to read. (With the Rockettes) we were rehearsing eight hours a day, six days a week," she said. "And it's synchronized dancing, so you're working as a team, which you have to do with your medical colleagues."

    Elizabeth Swenor, an osteopathic physician, was a teacher with plans to become a school principal—until she realized at age 32 that teaching was not her dream and quit her job. "Then I sold my house and moved in with my parents while I went to medical school," Swenor said.

    Swenor credits her background in teaching with providing her the ability to meet each patient's unique needs. "When you're developing lesson plans, you take into account the fact that everyone learns differently," she said. "I try to address that with my patients. And I give them homework. Things like food journals and sleep journals, but I also give them things to read. And they have to be ready to have a discussion about it when they come back" (Samuel, STAT News, 1/18).

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