The New Gastroenterologist

Advanced degree programs to consider when changing careers


I have been in private practice as a gastroenterologist for 18 years. Many of us in gastroenterology and related fields have wondered how to navigate toward the next step in our careers. There are resources available to further our knowledge, add new skills, and fine tune personal talents to help position us for that next step.

Dr. Latha Alaparthi, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

Dr. Latha Alaparthi

Questions to ask at this stage are: What do I really want to do? Where do I see myself in 5-10 years? How do I go about achieving my target?

We come from different backgrounds including, broadly, academic clinical, academic research, basic science, clinical practice, and education. The next stage of these career paths can vary, and that should be kept in mind while choosing courses/programs. I reached out to two well-known gastroenterologists who have successfully changed their career paths after starting with different backgrounds.

Ronald Vender, MD, professor of medicine, associate dean of clinical affairs, chief medical officer, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

Dr. Vender began in private practice gastroenterology after fellowship. His own trajectory has been one of “evolution” and has grown to the above titles through “incremental opportunity.” While reflecting on his career, Dr. Vender felt three main attributes were responsible: involvement in medical/GI societies, involvement in non-GI organizations, and engagement of needs for improvement at the hospital of practice. Opportunities became available by speaking up, raising issues, and demanding improvements. Dr. Vender’s involvement in both the private practice sector and hospital administration made his transition to hospital administration possible. This change was based on a “change in [him] and change in what [he] wanted to do.” His advice for all is to learn to say “yes” often in your early career and recognize when to say “no” later in your career.

John Allen, MD, MBA, clinical professor of medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Dr. Allen started his career in the Veterans Affairs (VA) system, and during this time, he was exposed to research activities and learned research skills. His initial interest was in health care delivery, but this eventually changed to private practice gastroenterology. His exposure to information and the opportunity to learn about variations in practice and outcomes allowed him to maintain his interest in quality, which ultimately led to publications on colonoscopy quality. In his 40s he decided to obtain an executive master of business administration (EMBA), which he feels one should embark upon “when you have a problem to solve.” He has effectively moved from the VA system to private practice and now to academic medicine. Dr. Allen identified attending leadership conferences, engaging executive coaches, and participation in key committees as further opportunities to help you change careers. His prior work experience, education, and exposure enables him in his current position to help oversee a large department of medicine with 160 care sites, with quality and financials as key factors.

As we can see, there is no correct answer or set path for those of us wanting to change career directions. What was clear while speaking with both Dr. Vender and Dr. Allen was the importance of enthusiasm in solving issues, a willingness to commit to new projects, and an interest in exploring new areas.

Below is a brief overview of some degree programs that may help promote a change in your career path.

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