Wisdom//

Why I Left My Career as a Neurosurgeon — and What I Started Doing Instead

Always wanting to learn new things can make it hard to stay in one job

Courtesy of FocusStocker/Shutterstock
Courtesy of FocusStocker/Shutterstock

Some people are lucky enough to be able to spend their entire career—their entire adult life even—in a singular pursuit of a singular focus. They have such a passion for just one specific thing, one disease, one treatment, one musical instrument, one social ill, that they are content to leave all other possibilities aside. This is a good thing. A life with a singular focus is a setup for excellence.

What I am most passionate about, more than anything else, I’m afraid, is learning something new. If I could somehow benefit society and make a good living as a professional student, crossing disciplines as I went, I’d be tempted—very tempted. I love life on the learning curve and my curiosity is broad. This can be a double-edged sword, though, when it comes to settling on a career. Although it’s true that in any given specialty, no matter how narrow the focus, you’re ‘always learning something new,’ as every good mentor says, my suspicion was that I would always want to find out what, exactly, that new something was in the next conference room, operating room, or country on the other side of the world.

After devoting many years to neurosurgery, I did end up launching a new career as co-founder and chief medical officer of a healthcare company, HealthPrize Technologies. This major course change was exciting (and a little scary) given that I was able to enter the steep end of a new learning curve. It was motivated mainly by a desire to take on the challenge of becoming an entrepreneur, rather than by a desire to leave neurosurgery. In fact, during my transition, I briefly considered attempting to maintain my role as neurosurgeon part-time, until I asked myself: what patient would want a part-time brain surgeon?

Excerpted from Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside by Katrina Firlik, MD with permission from the author.

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