Interview Series: Non-Clinical Career Expert and Coach, Dr. Michelle Mudge-Riley

The annual Physicians Helping Physicians Celebration and Networking event is coming up, this April 6-7, 2019 in the beautiful Austin, Texas. If it wasn’t for a conference for work I already booked, I would so be going. I am putting these dates into my calendar for next year so I can try to attend in 2020. 

This event has an outstanding agenda, in which you work on your resume, elevator pitch, get one-on-one mentoring with physicians who are doing what you want to do, in-depth informational sessions on all sorts of non-clinical careers, a reception, and of course, you’re in beautiful Austin the whole time!

1. Tell me a little about yourself, your journey, and what you do?

I have four degrees – one of those being a medical degree. It took me a long time to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I am always reinventing myself – I guess we all are.

That’s probably healthy. I am fascinated by all the different types of jobs and careers out there. What I do is to constantly learn more about different careers out there and how to get into them – then help others who may be unhappy, bored or just wanting a career change for some reason.

It wasn’t always this way, though! For many years I was very lost, feeling like a failure because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I just knew practicing medicine wasn’t it!

For awhile, all I cared about was finding a non-

clinical career and getting into it. I ended up in a medical device job and back in school to get a Master’s Degree. I thought I’d be happy in hospital administration so I got a Masters in Healthcare Administration.

But when I realized hospital administration wasn’t “it” either, I pivoted into another way to use my medical degree and my new Masters degree – Corporate Wellness. That was a good landing place for me….for awhile.

After a few years I got bored with that job. But I was ready at that point. During those years working in the Corporate Wellness job I took many steps to make sure I’d never find myself in the situation of feeling trapped in my career or job and not knowing what to do. That resilience has enabled me to reinvent myself and ways to make money many times over so I can shape my career around my life, not the other way around.

2. What was your motivation for creating PhysiciansHelpingPhysicians ( and Docs Outside the Box podcast?

How long were you thinking about creating this business before you took the leap and did it?

I transitioned out of clinical medicine back in 2004 and I found it very difficult to

do on my own. I made a lot of mistakes! One of those mistakes was hiring a recruiter. I had no idea what I wanted to do or what I could do so it seemed to be a logical step to hire a recruiter to just get me a job.

But I didn’t understand what recruiters do or how they get paid. And, I didn’t understand that if I didn’t know what I wanted to do, it was a bad idea to ask someone who didn’t even know me to find me a job! Once I figured out the next step of my career, I vowed I would help other doctors who might also want to transition to a non clinical career.

And actually, I was featured on Docs Outside the Box podcast – I did not create that podcast – that’s Nii Darko, another doctor who has put together an amazing bunch of podcasts over the years.

3. How did you transition into being a physician career coach? What was that transition like?

That transition was not a transition – it was something that evolved over time as I was contacted by others and helped them transition by sharing my knowledge and experience – first my own experiences and my transition and then, as I helped more and more doctors, of others’ transitions.

I’m pretty open and willing to talk about this thing that used to be the pink elephant in the room – physicians who don’t want to practice or see patients – so others started to find me and reach out to me. I wrote a lot about it and when those articles were published in places like Physicians Practice or KevinMD, others would learn about me. I got invited to speak at conferences and stuff. This was before there where things like these Facebook Groups so people were fascinated to hear about this and some doctors were hungry for this knowledge they couldn’t’ find anywhere else.

4. There are so many career coaches out there. How can a physician choose a career

coach that is right for them?

Are there certain traits of a good career coach?

There are more and more doctors becoming career coaches. I started seeing that around 2012. It can be a good thing because there are so many doctors looking for help – whether it’s because of burnout, boredom or some other reason – so the demand for physician career coaches has grown. It’s also more accepted to admit you may not want to practice anymore (or at all). At the same time, some of the issues in medicine have gotten worse – the increased administrative responsibilities, the number of patients with multiple complex issues and the drive for cost saving and efficiencies.

In some instances, I see things continuing to get worse. Doctors are required to see so many more patients per day and do so much more paperwork for each one. At some point, it’s non sustainable. Some places are there already. It’s no wonder some doctors want out.

This is not what we signed up for.

When choosing a career coach, I encourage you to talk with several before making a decision. Ask questions related to your needs and what you expect from a coach. Having these conversations will help you learn more about each coach’s personality and how he or she might approach helping you. You will get a sense of who you might work well with. At some point, you will just need to make a decision and go with it.

Expect to pay at least several thousand dollars to work with a physician career coach for several months. But you also have to be willing to do the (sometimes hard) work to help yourself. You can’t expect a career coach to wave a magic wand and get you a job if you don’t know what you want or you’re not willing to put in the work. You should expect to get advice and assistance in things like networking, social media profiles, your resume, your elevator pitch and your plan, just to name a few things.

Traits of a good coach include wanting to meet you where you are at and get you results. You may not get into your next job within several months of hiring and working with a career coach. But you will definitely be a heck of a lot further along than if do it yourself. There are hundreds of books out there about how to write a resume – and if you Google resume, you’ll get over 650K results.

How do you know how to sift through all those? It could take days or weeks. But a coach can guide you to translate your CV or put together a new resume in a much shorter timeframe. Likewise with networking and Linked In. Where do you begin? Your coach should have a plan to get you started and ramp you up quickly. Doing it on your own is possible but I’ve had people tell me they procrastinated for weeks or months – or even years! – because they didn’t know where to start.

5. What do you see are the biggest challenges physicians face when transitioning into a nonclinical career?

How can physicians avoid this?

Some of the biggest challenges include jumping right into something else because you CAN do it, not because you want to do it. Another challenge is not knowing or understanding the realities of other jobs or careers. Still another is expecting your life to be magically perfect in a new career.

Another is worrying what people will think about choosing a non-clinical career. Still another is losing confidence in yourself or believing you aren’t able or qualified to do anything else.

You CAN do this – most doctors just need help because we’ve never had to think about this stuff. Typically, we had to jump through a lot of hoops to become a doctor but those hoops were laid out for us and we knew when and where to jump.

Knowing this is going to be hard, uncomfortable, out of your comfort zone, scary and filled with some non-controllable factors will help physicians be better prepared to deal with the uncertainty and new territory a nonclinical career search and transition will entail.

6. What advice would you give to physicians who don’t go into residency and want

to immediately start their entrepreneurial journey?

Do it! It’s old and traditional thinking that you have to do a residency and then you can start your life. But it’s a slippery slope and topic. I encourage residents who are in their 2nd year or higher of a residency to finish, but start putting steps into place to find and get into a non clinical career or start a business or another career entirely. An active license and board certification is required in many non- clinical careers and shift work (urgent care, telemedicine, locums, etc) can be a good way to earn some extra money if you ever need it. But if you are pretty sure you don’t want to practice regularly, don’t slog through another 5 years after you finish.

Sure, some doors will be closed to you without that practice experience but life is short. If you can’t get into a residency or if you’ve already left, there are still plenty of options for doctors without a residency. Some include physician liaison work with EMR companies like EPIC, consulting for companies like

McKinsey & Co, or doing a whole host of other careers that have nothing to do with medicine and may just involve a certification you can get in a few months. You might actually make more money in the long run than if you had spent years practicing miserably.

7. What if a physician wanted to be an entrepreneur, but have no idea where to start.

What’s the first step to starting a business?

The first step to starting a business is validating your idea. You want to be sure people will buy what you are selling! A business has to make money somehow. There are lots of interesting ways to monetize a business – some that people never think of. So get crystal clear on your idea and then talk to 100 people about it.

Find out where the holes are. Figure out what won’t work. Then tweak and pivot. During this time, get clear on your target audience. Who needs your product or service? Get someone to pay for it – even if it’s just $1. Once you have paying customers, you know your idea has some legs.

8. Do you recommend finding a mentor?

Do you have one and how did you find


Oh, I can’t say enough about the value of mentors. I wish I would have had a mentor in medicine. It took me a long time to realize the value and find mentors.

Another mistake on my part! I sort of fell into getting my first mentor but now I have several – and I continue to look for more. Having a mentor is sort of like a friend – one can’t give you everything you need.

You need different mentors for different aspects of your life.

9. It can be really overwhelming starting something brand new, what’s the best

advice you can share with physicians thinking about, but feeling scared, about

starting their own business?

Just start writing something down and evolve that. As physicians, we fear failure. You don’t have to get this perfect right away – or ever. Some of the best ideas were started on the back of a cocktail napkin after a couple beers.

Know that you don’t have to quit your job and live in the back of your car or move to Silicon Valley to be successful with your idea. There are plenty of very successful businesses that are pure lifestyle businesses and done very part time that can bring in thousands or hundreds of thousands of extra income each year. And there is a chance you could eventually run the business full time but plan for a ramp up time of at least a couple years.

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