I don't know what to be when I grow up... for the 5th or 6th time.
October 8, 2012 8:22 AM   Subscribe

I desperately need to take my career in another direction, but my degree, training and experience are ridiculously specific. Is it the right time for grad school (again)… or something else? Help me think outside the box.

Anonymous because I don’t want this connected to my real name/account, but I’ll try to be as specific as possible.

My masters degree is in a healthcare field emphasizing direct client service. Even when I was pursuing the degree, I was more interested in theory than application, but thought I should practice for a while before rolling into a PhD program. I’ve not regretted that at all; my direct experience in the field has really helped to shape and define my interests (which end up being tangential to my original field surprise surprise). For the past year I’ve been making plans to apply to graduate schools, have been working as an adjunct lecturer, and getting more involved in research activities at my employers. I know academia will be a good fit for me.

Along the way, I had the opportunity to act as a team leader for a large department to troubleshoot and solve a problem which had been growing for years. This position was pretty much diplomacy and negotiation: bringing together different departments with administration and negotiating a workable solution without increasing overhead or resources. It was challenging and pretty much consumed my life, but I really enjoyed the work. I think the biggest challenge was trying to balance those responsibilities with the day to day clinical care.

Speaking of: I’ve become more and more dissatisfied with the clinical care aspect. Through my career I’ve created a kindof specialization within a specialized service model of this specialized field, so just going out and switching gears to the thing that 99% of the other people with my degree does (do?) is a little more difficult at this point. Plus, the reason I pursued all this specialization is that the other 99% is dull as heck. I’m barely hanging on mentally in this situation I’ve created/worked for as it is.

So yeah, grad school. I’ve got my programs picked out, I have a great application packet, but the thought of pulling the trigger is terrifying: I have a family, including a toddler and a middle schooler that I’d have to uproot and truck across the country, not to mention the whole mega workload at half my current salary thing. Oh and I’m nearly 40 and I feel like if I’m going to do this I need to do it now now now.

At the same time, I’m keeping my eyes and ears open for other possibilities as I don’t know if I can seriously hang on for another year in my current position. In browsing job boards I discovered the field of Quality Improvement, which turns out to be exactly that thing I was doing for a while that I enjoyed. And I seem to meet many of the qualifications. And it nearly doubles my salary. Like literally a whole new world of opportunity feels like it just opened up and I’m even more overwhelmed and confused.

Are there other positions like QI that are worth exploring? I like the idea of “doing good” but hands on day to day implementation is a drag. I love working with people, listening to people and solving problems. People told me I was really good at this other role I took on for a while, and I probably could have kept it if I wanted, but it was too much with my clinical work. I love data and numbers and writing and presenting, and I’m darn good at those things. I have some tech skills (regular office junk plus some database administration/programming experience that’s like a decade old). I’m also really good at my clinical job. It just makes me deeply unhappy and dissatisfied.

Or should I just hold my breath and do the grad school thing and pray to god that I (and my family) can handle it?

Oh I should probably also mention that I have a burning need to change what I'm doing every 5 years are so and I'm about 2-years past that expiration date. Yes, I do realize that this one statement renders everything else I said moot. But I guess any potential path should have some option to shake things up every once in a while.

This question feels really self indulgent, especially in this economy. I should probably just count my blessings and cultivate a nice hobby instead of defining myself by my job. But I can’t do that, I never have, I wish I could. Thanks for any advice or insight.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My gut instinct is, don't go to grad school. That feeling increases a lot if you are currently the primary breadwinner for your family. You will have to make so many sacrifices (moving, loss of income, loss of quality time with your kids) to make it happen, and for what? So in 5 years you can get antsy and need another career change?

Get back to doing the type of work that you enjoyed in that one project, and try to ditch your clinical duties as much as possible. Negotiate a new job that suits you better. The job world is much better for being able to change gears every 5 years. You don't need a new degree to do it.
posted by permiechickie at 8:34 AM on October 8, 2012

I'm never of the opinion that more school is a good idea if there are any other viable alternatives.

I think that women especially, are trained (brainwashed) to think that there is always some specific kind of education, that is needed when making a job change. It's just not true.

I would recommend updating your resume, posting on LinkedIn and see what kinds of nibbles you get (if you're spot on in your descriptions of the types of things you've done in your career, you'll be amazed)

You can also do some searching for QI recruiters. Talk to a few of them, explain your background and see what their feedback is regarding your experience or other experiences that you can get while doing your current job.

Keep looking at QI jobs and apply for the ones where some of your skill set will be used, in your cover letter ask for an informational interview with the recruiter/hr/hiring manager to see if your skills can be used elsewhere, or even for direction on how to gain the qualifications they need.

Another option is to see if there's QI software, Software and Hardware companies are always looking for people who have practiced in the field and who are able to discuss the product with IT and with clinicians, or train them. (Think RN's working for GE teaching people how to use the MRI, or whatever.)

Have you looked into QI certification? That would be HUGE, and you can do it remotely. Here's a link to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. They appear to have some courses. Would your Tuition Aid Program at your current job cover these under Continuing Education?

Have you talked to anyone at your current job about transitioning to a QI job? Could you?

Grad School should be your LAST RESORT.

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:37 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

We have many people transition from clinical to administrative without going to grad school. Why do you feel that full-time grad school is required? I have a few people working for me that came through clinical ranks and made the transition to administration. Full time grad school is a very expensive and disruptive way to change job functions, particularly since you already have a graduate degree and have done some administrative experience in quality improvement

Healthcare specific? Process improvement and Six Sigma are the roles you'd be looking at in my hospital system. That said, Healthcare improvement fads come and go and I wouldn't specialize in a specific methodology, but I would get a good grounding in Lean/Six Sigma. If you have a technology interest, the process side of EMR implementation is pretty big right now. Many hospitals have plopped EMRs into the hospital, but not a lot of thought was given about how to get clinicians to interact with the system. There a ton of process work that will go on in that area for a few years.
posted by 26.2 at 8:42 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

No, I wouldn't do the grad school thing, it seems unnecessary - build more networks in the areas you're looking at and use your existing experience and skill set as leverage.
posted by heyjude at 4:21 PM on October 8, 2012

The things you need to learn to enhance your employability doing the things you enjoy are not found in grad school, unless you want to pursue a degree (a master's would do) in applied statistics/matematics. For that a local university would be more than adequate and it can be done while you work. Ruthless Bunny has compiled a good list that you can post over your desk to look at every time you think of getting an advanced degree that won't really improve on where you can go without one. In the Quality field it's the people you know and the things you do that carry the most weight. (Yes, I've put more than 15 years into the field and I started well after my 40th birthday).
posted by ptm at 11:51 PM on October 8, 2012

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