John Doe: Junior doctor to management consultant
Ever since I started this blog, I have been drawn to a wide variety of recruitment events, mostly fueled by the brave men and women of Imperial’s Careers Service. I met an MBB consultant, John (pseudonym) at one such event where, faced with all of our preconceptions (and that of the internet [1, 2, 3, 4], John had, in part, the daunting task of presenting a career in consulting as one full of work-life balance. Something I would dare say he accomplished.
After the presentations I caught up with John, and realised that he was a medical doctor prior to becoming a management consultant. To my knowledge, this is not the advertised career path for med students (though he is the one of six doctor-turned-consultants I’ve met)We love you NHS. Of course I asked for the opportunity to interview him and here we are.
We met 3 weeks later at a coffee shop in central London. The following interview lasted almost exactly 30 minutes. John did not let me buy him coffee, insisting he buy me mine.
(Note: What is written below is extracted from a transcript of my interview notes. It does not contain quotes verbatim.)
One of the most refreshing aspects of my time with John was when I realised he had switched from what I call “social mode” to “information mode” soon after we started out interview. He would very carefully listen to my questions, and then break down his answers, into small bite-sized chunks. I am not sure if this was the doctor or the consultant, I guess it doesn’t hurt that I can’t tell.
John, a doctor by training, grew up in the midlands where being a banker means you literally work in a bank branch, being a lawyer means you’re probably a solicitor, and being a doctor means you’re quite successful and respected in the community. John did not want to work in a bank branch, nor was he partial to law. But then he took on a management consultancy internship during med school, went back to medicine for a good 6 years before finally stepping out from it completely. Now he is a consultant and does some interesting pro-bono work for a children’s theatre in London.
Yet, speaking with him showed me his almost unconditional love for the medical profession as a whole. In fact, when I jokingly asked if he ever wanted to go back and “fix the NHS”, his response was not far from a resounding “yes”.
Below is the full transcript of our interview.
ALI: So let’s start with the basics, what is your position today?
JOHN: I’ve been a consultant, since around July.
ALI: Ok, so I guess the first real question is, why medicine to start with?
JOHN: That’s a good question. I think, job availability played a huge role. Growing up in the midlands, you come face to face with a lot of doctors, teachers, less so lawyers etc. And if you do they are usually solicitors. And there were lots of bankers. But a “banker” would be someone who works at a bank branch, rather than an investment firm.
ALI: What were the other options? If not medicine then…?
JOHN: Actually, before medicine I had also seriously considered becoming a chemical engineer. In retrospect, again, the reason was probably that AstraZeneca had a facility nearby. So I’d say, job availability and what I could see around me is the answer to this.
(As someone from Tehran, a sprawling metropolis, where it’s not job availability, but how good you are at whatever you do that is the ceiling, I often forget that job availability is and continues to be a driver for many people going into university)
ALI: So, then you went to Oxford to do medicine. But yet, in the middle you did a management consultancy internship. I don’t imagine that this is a typical path?
JOHN: So the way Oxford degrees work is that you do 3 years of theoretical medicine and then 3 years of clinical work. I knew that I wanted to get into medicine and go down that path but I also wanted to take a year out and go traveling, explore myself and that kind of stuff. At year 3, I knew that if I didn’t take a year out, I would never really have the chance to do it. So I decided to take a 6 month road trip through South America.
ALI: that sounds pretty cool actually, but how did the internship come into this?
JOHN: It’s was almost entirely by chance actually. My tutor at the time suggested that I spend the other 6 months on an internship. He happened to be working at a consultancy on the side and he told me that he could get me an interview there. So my first exposure was almost totally chance.
ALI: You went back to complete your degree after this. So what was your plan?
JOHN: I really enjoy the clinical work in medicine, seeing patients, that feeling of helping someone in a real tangible way was a good driver for me. But I also enjoy the more academic side where I could contribute to the research. So the career path was to become a doctor, with a leg at a university, like being a lecturer.
ALI: Like a consultant?
(Oh the irony.)
JOHN: Haha yes.
ALI: By the time you had finished the internship, had this plan changed?
JOHN: Oh yes absolutely. I realised that the world was bigger than just medicine. That I could help people in other ways. That was quite attractive to me as it opened up a whole new world.
ALI: But then, once you finished your degree, you continued on the medical path though the academic foundation programme. How come?
JOHN: Well actually, towards my last year of med school I had a rotation at pediatrics that I enjoyed quite a bit, and that gave me a second wind, giving me the push to stay in medicine. I also enjoyed other aspects of that year very much. But that didn’t last very long and I went back to consultancy after I completed the programme.
(The most powerful weapon in the world: A cute kid.)
ALI: This brings us to your job today. Has it been all you thought it would be?
JOHN: Hmmm, it’s difficult to say. I would say that the interview process does a good job at giving you an idea of what the job is like. But personally, I would say that this job is giving me an amazing toolkit to work with in the future.
ALI: Speaking of the future and medicine. I know all too well how the NHS can be both amazing and terrible at the same time. Would you say that eventually you want to go back and help “fix” the NHS?
JOHN: Yes absolutely. I think having the consulting training and some inside knowledge on how the medical profession functions would be quite helpful in this area.
ALI: Tell me about the children’s charity work you do, how did that start?
JOHN: There is an internal social impact programme that you can apply to, where essentially instead of money, you donate your time. I got involved working with a London Children’s theatre through this programme.
ALI: What kind of work were you doing there? As in, what kind of problems would a small children’s theatre have that you could help with?
JOHN: It’s quite refreshing actually. Instead of a business with hundreds of millions of dollars, they have something like one million dollars to work with. Then the problems are things like, how many big shows versus small shows should we run. Business questions like that.
ALI: Any words of wisdom for keen graduate students in the process of applying for the job?
(At this point you could visibly see John shift gears into advice mode.)
JOHN: So as someone who does some of the CV screening I’d say you have to have:
- Academics: Good university, good marks, stuff like that.
- Leadership: Experience leading a team or projects. Starting initiatives.
- Business understanding: Evidence that you have an understanding of how a business operates
- Context: Add numbers, tell my why some entry is important. Don’t say founder of some club that could just be you and your mates hanging out. Mention why it’s impressive.