So You Want to Leave Patient Care: Now What?

Last Updated on October 11, 2022 by Laura Turner

Are you experiencing clinician burnout? Do you bring your patients’ emotional and physical burdens home with you every night? Yet, do you stay in patient care because you don’t know what else to do?
It’s OK. You’re certainly not alone! I was there once, and I’m here to tell you that you have other options. Here are some tips to make those options into realities.

The first thing you need to do is take some important self-inventory steps.

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Make sure you really, really want to leave patient care

You’re probably rolling your eyes at this one, but I had to include it. I realize that you’re probably reading this article because you’ve come to a point of desperation. You probably already tried multiple patient care jobs and realized it’s simply not for you. But humor me, because sometimes, you simply need a change of setting. Maybe you need to move from a hospital to an outpatient clinic. Maybe you need to work within a niche market with a special type of patient. Perhaps you need to try cash-pay practice or some other angle of patient care that doesn’t make you a slave to insurance.

Assess why you burned out

Take out a piece of paper and write down all the reasons that you think caused you to be unhappy in patient care. Do you find that you’re exhausted from all the human interaction? Are the hours too inflexible for your needs? Are you a germaphobe? It happens! Do you struggle to separate your patients’ emotional and physical burdens from your own? Do you get frustrated spending so much time on your feet? Does documentation get you down?

The reason you want to ask yourself the above questions is that the answers will help you make your plan for what to do next. Certain professionals, such as physicians and nurses, will have an easier time making a transition to non-clinical work. Others, such as physical therapists and speech therapists, might have a bit more work ahead. That said, it’s entirely possible to make the move; it just might take a more focused effort on your part.

Determine your strengths and weaknesses

Some self-examination in this area will help you feel more fulfilled in your next job. Are you bad at time management? Really frustrated when you have to take your documentation home with you at night? A professor has to grade papers after hours. It might be worth considering whether you’ll find that equally frustrating. Do you find that writing comes to you effortlessly, but struggling with agitated patients makes you want to pull your hair out? Perhaps a desk job in health marketing or communications would be better suited for you.
Great job. Your self-reflection will help you a lot and MIGHT enable you to skip the next step.

Work with a career advisor or recruiter

Trust me here, you need to work with an experienced career advisor or recruiter. Each of them can provide you with valuable information for your career shift.

Career advisors can help you with a more in-depth analysis of your self-inventory, as well as provide motivation and encouragement to advance you toward your goals. They typically give you homework and provide guidance for your steps along the way, including preparing your resume, crafting effective cover letters, learning how to interview well.

In my case, I was able to skip this step, because my sister happens to be a career counselor. She provided me with tons of informal coaching and helped me realize what I loved and hated about physical therapy. We then took that information and determined how to use it to find a better fit.

We found that:
  • I don’t love speaking in public. Probably wouldn’t make a good PT professor, unless I taught online courses.
  • I love writing and have some web design experience from years ago. Possibly something in medical communications!
  • Being around people all day drains me…unless they’re optimistic. Patient care is out. PT patients tend to be sad and frustrated! But I don’t need to be shut in a hole all day, cut off from people altogether.
  • I get bored extremely easily. Having a single, slow-paced job is not appealing to me. It explains why I always favored per diem work when I was in patient care.
  • I like a home base. While the idea of traveling medical sales rep sounds great, I am freaked out by flying and have a husband and three cats whom I do not want to leave.
  • My family is the most important thing in the world to me. I will absolutely wither away in a job where I cannot travel home to see my parents and sister several times per year.
  • I do enjoy recognition for my work. I’m not proud of this one, but it was important to understand about myself, because certain roles allow very little recognition, while others do.

As we worked through this list, I could start checking off items that had initially seemed appealing. For example, I considered heavily pursuing a job where I would be a clinical liaison, traveling around and training clinicians to use EMRs or types of durable medical equipment. Then, I had to travel on a particularly unpleasant flight and realized I’d be miserable in that role, even if it meant I could escape from patient care. Talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire!

The reason I brought up working with a recruiter is that I had one recruiter who took a lot of time with me when we first worked together. I had decided that I wanted to become a copywriter, and she sat me down, explained exactly what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong, and recommended steps I could take to correct my approach. We tweaked my resume and she directed me to the best portfolio websites for copywriters. Her recommendations worked so quickly and dramatically that I was starting to have to turn down work!

Work for free (or for much lower pay)…temporarily

I bet you don’t love me for writing this one, but this was 100% essential to my successful transition out of patient care. I chose to pursue writing, so I co-founded a website for new graduate physical therapists. For the first 2 years of its existence, I made zero money on it. Now, I make just enough, but the more it grows, the less I have to rely on my other sources of income.

Are you hoping to work in human resources? Rather than jumping ship altogether from clinical care right this very moment, consider switching to per diem work and using your off days to take a pay cut and/or volunteer. This takes a definite change in spending patterns and could mean huge sacrifices for you (and your family, if you have one). But it will pay off in spades because you’ll finally feel sane again.

Let’s say you know someone in HR at a hospital. Or a friend knows a friend. See if you can spend some time shadowing or doing clerical work for the department for a few days per week. You can then list this on your resume for future jobs that will be higher paying.

Similarly, if you’d like to become an instructor or professor, contact your local university. See if they have any need for lab instructors or assistants. Continue to work your per diem job while you work these side instructor jobs. Once you have enough experience, you can apply to go full-time.

This might not be necessary if you are jumping into a sales role. Each type of career is its own animal, so you will need to do some LinkedIn stalking of others who have made the jump, in order to find out the answers. This brings us to…

Update your LinkedIn profile.

Does your LinkedIn profile still say “Your Name, Occupational Therapist”? If so, it’s time to change it. If you’re a writer, call yourself “Your Name, Copywriter/Occupational Therapist.” I know this because I search for copywriting PTs and OTs for my websites, and they’re a lot harder to find when their title doesn’t explicitly state that they are copywriters.

Let’s say you’re looking to become a medical device sales rep. You’ll want to say “Your Name, Results Driven OT,” or something similar.

What you might need to do is drop the excess letters after your name, because they can compete with your new identity. It can be painful, as those extra letters were hard to learn. I went through hell studying for my CSCS certificate, but very few recruiters are looking for those 4 letters, compared to a more accurate description.

My old heading: “Meredith Castin, PT, DPT, CSCS: Physical Therapist”
My updated heading: “Meredith Castin, PT, DPT: Content Strategist/Physical Therapist”

After a while, it simply became: “Meredith Castin, PT, DPT: Head of Content”

Similarly, make adjustments to your LinkedIn work experience that you’d make for your resume (described below). Eliminate roles and experiences that aren’t relevant to your ideal position. Are you a physical therapist transitioning to a professorial role? Remove “Utilized advanced manual therapy techniques to improve patient function” and replace with “Created new guidelines for student therapists, and mentored new clinicians joining the team.”

Spruce up your resume, and tailor it to the particular role you want.

Understand that a clinician’s resume will look very different from a non-clinician’s resume, and non-clinicians might not understand your clinical jargon. For example, let’s say that you’d like to work as a medical device sales rep and you’re a physical therapist.

Start by pulling up your resume and seeing how you can tweak it.

Step 1: Recognize what your new employer would want to see.

You know that medical device sales reps want friendly, outgoing, numbers-driven therapists who can meet sales goals and feel comfortable on the road. They probably don’t care that you’re certified in LSVT BIG or hold an NDT certification.

Highlight your relevant areas and slash the irrelevant ones. You might be super proud of the extensive list of technical nursing continuing education classes you’ve taken, but they aren’t going to help you with this particular job.

Step 2: Verbatim, add the words from the job description into your resume.

Literally. It might feel really creepy to just interject the exact words into some of your existing roles from job descriptions, but it works. Many resumes are crawled by computers, and they’re searching for very specific words. If those exact words are not in your resume, it might not ever get to an actual human to read. Applying for a copywriter job where you’ll be writing for one business, speaking to other businesses? Make sure your resume contains both “business to business” and B2B somewhere in it.

Step 3: Remove irrelevant information and add references.

By definition, these companies will be taking a chance on you. Make sure that you take the hassle out of them asking you for references, and provide them yourself. Cut some of the chaff from your resume, such as certifications and coursework that will never be relevant to your next job.

Rock out on each and every cover letter.

I could write an entire article about how to craft a good cover letter. Instead, I will focus on what really matters in your particular shoes right now. You need to address the elephant in the room – you’re making a really big career change.

Prepare to explain your choice in your cover letter. Honest HR Guy points out that he is always receptive to career changers when he screens job applications. But he might assume your application was an error unless you explicitly state that you’re wanting a career change. He adds that you’ll get bonus points for explaining exactly how you arrived at the decision to change careers.

Consider informational interviews

Many an employee has landed a job from an informational interview. You might have to work some of your connections to make this one happen, but it will be worth it. Find somebody who has made the transition. Usually, there will be someone in your network, and if not, there is a friend of a friend out there.

Use LinkedIn to find these connections, and ask your shared contact to introduce you. Offer to buy your “career spirit animal” a meal, coffee, or drink and say you’d love the opportunity to pick his/her brain about how they made the career move that you are hoping to make. People love to talk about themselves, and many folks will jump at the chance to give you this interview. In some cases, you might wind up with a job offer. At the very least, you will be armed with some very helpful information to help you on your search, as well as a connection for the future.

Sign up for each and every job matching platform you can find

Seriously. It’s a pain, but upload your resume for your “dream position” to all of them.

LinkedIn: Huge database of jobs, allows you to see how many applicants have applied for each job. Free option and paid option.
Glassdoor: Large database of jobs, allows you to see others’ reviews of employers, so you can make sure you’re not walking into a dysfunctional, mismanaged work environment. Free option.
CovalentCareers: Healthcare-specific “ideal partner” job matching platform with custom recruiters who will help you land the job you want. Free option. Focused on finding the right fit, so good for clinicians looking to change paths.
ZipRecruiter: This is a newer player to the game, but they have really good customer service and are always seeking user feedback.
Indeed: Probably the biggest database of jobs around. Might be your best bet to find non-clinical jobs, but you’ll be competing with more experienced applicants, so prepared to really sell yourself.
Monster: One of the oldest websites for job matching. It has excellent career-focused content.

By using these different services, you can ensure that more eyes see that you’re out there and looking.

Devote time to job searching, but do not put all your eggs in one basket

One thing you need to know about making this transition is that you cannot expect it to be easy. You might send out 10 applications and hear back from one person. And that response might be a rejection. Still, keep applying. I always joke that I could make a coffee table book out of my rejection letters from the time that I was transitioning out of patient care!

If you get too excited about any particular job, you might wind up with a very defeatist attitude if you don’t land the job. You have to have thick skin to make this transition. If you don’t get the response you want, try, try again. You will get there and, one day, you might be the person on LinkedIn who gets contacted for career advice.

I know this because it happens to me all the time. Good luck with your search!