Dr. Maria Simbra stuck with medical school, despite all the misgivings she was having about working as a doctor. “At that point, you’re so far in, you feel you have no choice but to go on to residency. The rigors of that experience just intensified my despondency. One attending, who actually seemed to care, advised me to finish my training. If I got to a logical end with things, I would have so much more influence if I decided to go on to something else later in life.”
She finished her residency and went on to do a neurophysiology fellowship, convinced that if she pushed on, things would somehow “feel” better when she became a doctor. But even going into private practice did nothing to dispel the sense that this wasn’t a good career fit for her.
“After a few months I came to realize that I would be seeing the same handful of complaints, taking the same formulaic history, doing the same standard exam, dictating essentially the same note – and then repeating this over and over again every 15 minutes,” recalls Dr. Simbra, pictured above. “If I had to do this for the next 20-30 years of my life, it was going to extinguish my soul.”
She decided she had to make a career change and find something that would work for her. So she began reading everything she could get her hands on. “One book I highly recommend is Barbara Sher’s I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It. She got you to think about all the things over the course of your life that really lit your world on fire – professional and non-professional.”
Physician career options should include passions
For Dr. Simbra, she looked back at her days involved with theater and music, art and language. In medical school, she was excited about politics and managing campaigns. “My pattern was a penchant for writing and performing,” Dr. Simbra recalls, “but I also enjoyed the analytical part of being a doctor. So how would you combine these?”
The answer she came up with was TV journalism. But how could she take the next step?
It wasn’t easy. She decided to go back to school and get a master’s degree in journalism and mass communications. This required her to drop from full-time to part-time work as a physician. And in what spare time she had, she pushed herself to attend career workshops and learn about networking.
“The networking led me to a meeting with the news director at a local station,” explains Dr. Simbra. “He invited me to do an internship as part of my graduate studies.” Things worked out, and Dr. Simbra stayed on. She now works as a medical reporter for KDKA-TV News in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Stepping back and taking a hard look at her options as a physician, is she happy?
“I am very satisfied with my career now,” Dr. Simbra says. “I get to incorporate everything that turns me on in one career. I haven’t ‘wasted’ any of my degrees. I have probably forsaken some earning power and job security. But I think what I do is influential, challenging, and creative.
“I have enjoyable and stimulating colleagues, I like the nuts and bolts and arc of my day. Those things, to me, are far more valuable.”