In my case, having been a medical doctor since 1984, I have worked in teaching and nonteaching settings.
In 1996, after I completed the last part of my postgraduate training in endocrinology at Indiana University, I started my career journey in private practice in Cape Girardeau and Sikeston, Missouri. It was a wonderful 3-year period, in a beautiful part of the heartland. As a foreign medical graduate, this employment in an underserved rural community allowed me to obtain U.S. residence status, which ultimately lead to becoming a U.S. citizen.
However, those 3 years left me yearning to update my medical knowledge. Even going to medical conferences and symposia could not salvage the decaying knowledge nor fill the growing knowledge gaps.
As I was planning the next station in my career, I genuinely considered academic medicine. In 2005, my dream came true when I was accepted for employment by Michigan State University, joining the medical faculty as a junior endocrinologist (assistant professor).
Fast-forward, I have accomplished my lifelong plans of academic achievements and academic ranking. Looking back at my career journey, now that I am turning 60 next month, with a 35-year medical career, I feel that moving to academia was the best career decision I have made.
Academia is the best vehicle for doctors to stay up-to-date with medical knowledge. Having students, residents and fellows around at all times is invaluable. There is nothing better than exchanging knowledge between people in person, as compared to solo reading. I still read — a study here or there, an article here or there — but there is just not enough time to learn all the new updates by reading alone.
A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a colleague, around my age. He is a subspecialist who has similarly been a doctor for over 3 decades. He had always worked in private practice, until 2 years ago, when he decided to join a university.
He said to me over the phone: “Let me let you on a secret. Despite the lower income in academia, I came to learn that there are other rewards in the medical profession: The gratifying rewards of teaching. I had never enjoyed being a doctor like I am nowadays.”
I told him that his secret resonated with me wholeheartedly; I experienced the same feeling many years ago.
“After completing fellowship training, in the first few years of my career outside of teaching, I had felt like a fish which was taken out of water!” I said.