Roads Less Traveled in Medicine

In the health care world, we’ve been talking about our “rapidly changing environment” for quite a while now. But as we adapt our care delivery systems to changes in our field, it’s also inevitable that some caregivers and biomedical researchers will evolve their own approaches to medicine and seek unexplored, unconventional paths.

A recent Forbes article explores the phenomenon of young doctors choosing nontraditional career trajectories—including entrepreneurship and jobs in a range of industries from government to technology. Author David Shaywitz doesn’t entirely chalk this up to the idea that they are increasingly disenchanted with the medical field, but that they feel a real need to deliver on “their own perceptions of medicine’s promise,” he says.

Shaywitz isn’t simply saying that young doctors should go out and start their own companies. He’s reminding us that our academic institutions need to continue to nurture the creativity and interests of trainees to make sure they have opportunities to do the most good for humanity.

At Johns Hopkins, there are a number of programs in place that help our residents and students explore areas of interest that forgo well-established paths.

In our Biomedical Careers Initiative, for example, Ph.D. students learn about jobs beyond faculty research posts. Fewer than 15 percent of biomedical graduates and less than 10 percent of entering students will actually end up in faculty positions, according to a 2014 Cell Press article. This Johns Hopkins program was developed to help our Ph.D. candidates hone their skills for nonacademic employment. So far, it has placed 18 students in internships in commercial and nonprofit organizations, including Eli Lily and Co. and the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.

Another recent effort within our Osler medical residency is called the Pathways Program. In it, senior faculty members identify second- and third-year residents with great aptitude in patient safety, global health or scientific discovery. The trainees are then offered a customized path of individualized coursework, hands-on experience and sophisticated mentorship in their chosen field of interest.

These programs both offer creative trajectories for students to follow and fully realize their talents. The most important thing that we can do is provide medical professionals of every mindset with ways to pursue their best ideas to impact the health of our communities and the world. We owe it to future generations to do so, as delivering on the promise of medicine is a responsibility that we all share.

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