The Revitalize Blog


Academic Medicine: Drawing Outside the Lines to Create the Career you Want

career diversification professional development Jan 10, 2022

Written by Dr. Andrea Austin, co-founder of Revitalize Women Physicians Circle  

By the end of emergency medicine residency, I was confident that I would work in academic medicine. I love learning, teaching, and writing. My residency and first five years of my attending career was in the Navy. After residency, I stayed at the same program and became the simulation director for the emergency department and later an assistant program director. When it became time to leave the Navy, I was confident that I would stay in academics, and based on what I knew, choosing a university-based program seemed to be the right step.

About 9 months in, I realized that the program wasn't a great fit for me. I didn't have the protected time to devote to my academic niche of simulation. While I had a lot of experience in the military and academic world, I was starting over on the academic ladder. My shifts were distributed across two hospital systems with little schedule coordination, which resulted in shift scheduling with no consideration of circadian rhythms. My sleep was completely dysregulated, which left no energy to do the academic endeavors I wanted to do. At one site, I sometimes got my schedule 1-2 days in advance. I'm not kidding. I couldn't plan meetings, a key part of being an academic. I also couldn't plan doctor or other necessary self-care appointments. I was beyond frazzled.

“I was beyond frazzled.”

Serendipitously, a friend forwarded me a job opening in a postgraduate medical simulation certificate program. This position is part-time and requires teaching two Master level courses in the simulation program. This position is also remote, all online teaching, thus no need to move. It also allows for a lot of autonomy regarding how I construct my courses and when I do the work. To top it off, the department is very supportive and appreciative of my contributions.

In addition to my simulation work, I also work with the non-profit AFFIRM Research at the Aspen Institute. I utilize my educational background to write articles and create curriculum to prevent firearm injuries. I also podcast regularly for The Emergency Mind on how to perform better under pressure and ERCast on trauma. This combination keeps me intellectually engaged and is in line with my values. While the topics are important to me, the people I work with are also phenomenal. They are truly great mentors, collaborators, and many have become my friends.

I was worried about losing the prestige of being associated with a medical school or university. My simulation teaching position allows me to stay connected with a medical school. Sometimes we make assumptions or excuses before we even know the facts! The bar to be an adjunct professor is often as low as giving a few lectures each year. Alternatively, you may be able to host a medical student rotation, in which some medical schools grant adjunct professor status to preceptors. You may also find that the title of an academic professor is less important, as you begin to flourish in a new environment.

In academic circles, money is not often talked about by physicians. While most of us feel a strong service component for what we do, it is also okay to expect to be paid more for what you do. You can be service-driven and strive for a higher income. It never sat right with me that many academic physicians are paid less than their community counterparts, despite working sometimes more hours when adding in educational and research endeavors. 

In some ways, I'm busier than I've ever been. Yet, I have constructed my professional life to allow for adequate sleep and rest to fuel my endeavors. While I'm always juggling competing interests, I feel excited and fulfilled with my new professional mix. This is not a typical path in academic medicine, there was no roadmap, and it wasn't something described to me during residency. We have a lot more flexibility and autonomy over our lives than we're led to believe in medical school and residency.

“In some ways, I'm busier than I've ever been. Yet, I have constructed my professional life to allow for adequate sleep and rest to fuel my endeavors.”

Constructing this professional mix did not occur overnight. The real groundwork was done when I began my coaching journey with Dr. Linda Lawrence. Through coaching, I clarified by values. I also created a vision board that I keep on my computer desktop. I see the vision board usually multiple times per day, and it helps me stay focused and motivated. Later, I had a deep conversation with Dr. Naomi Lawrence-Reid, founder of Doctoring Differently about my challenges in the typical university setting. She encouraged me to take my next best step, which at the time, was to take the part-time online teaching position and do some independent contract work to supplement my income. 

Many private and non-profit entities need physicians with an academic background to consult, educate and lead in their organizations. Many of these organizations allow for increased flexibility, better pay, and more support administratively to support you to do the intellectual and creative work you want to do. If your current academic position is draining you, but you love the idea of academics, I guarantee there is a position you can create that will allow you to thrive. Check out our website or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation. We can help you create a life that is in sync with your values and that you will thrive.


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