By Jennifer Peña, MD, FACP Virtual Primary Care Physician at Oscar Health Insurance; INOVA VIP 360 Executive/Concierge Medicine Physician U.S. Army Veteran.
One of my former Army Commanders told me that my transition into the civilian workforce would be easy, because I have a “profession” as a physician. I then felt that my physician resumé and credentials spoke for themselves, and I didn’t take the time to learn how to sell myself to potential future employers.
Turns out that by not preparing to “sell myself,” I ended up selling myself short upon transitioning into the civilian job market. I was applying for jobs as a physician, and my previous experience as an Army officer took a backseat. But doctors aren’t born leaders, and my leadership education was acquired in the Army, not in medical school.
I learned early on that medicine was my vocation, but being a soldier was my profession. As physicians in the military, we try to fit that white coat over our uniforms, but it never fits correctly because it is not meant to. Your caduceus is already present on your uniform lapel, but it is the “U.S. Army” plate that you proudly display over your heart.
Here are some of the valuable lessons I learned during my recent transition:
You no longer wear your resumé on your sleeve.
Literally. As military members, we are fortunate to have uniforms that proudly indicate our accomplishments, ranks and tenures. Once that uniform comes off, you have to represent yourself on a piece of paper, on interviews and on the job. Don’t sell yourself short. Make sure to translate all of your worth from the uniform to the resumé.
You are a leader, whether you get hired into a leadership position or not.
I am honored to work alongside brilliant minds in civilian medicine, and help shape the future of healthcare in this country. But smart doctors aren’t always born leaders. As a prior servicemember, you have been trained to lead, whether by emulation or in opposition. Use your experience to educate by example, supervise…but trust enough to delegate, manage…but don’t micromanage, and always engage with tactical patience.
You might be older, but you are wiser.
You might be faced with working with a younger cohort. Exercise humility, don’t be afraid to learn and ask questions, share helpful experiences and don’t be afraid to educate the educators. You don’t have to prove your worth, but you have to earn respect.
Being a veteran isn’t a crutch.
Being a veteran is a tool. Employers know the skills, discipline and work ethic that veterans offer. Yes, you probably were hired because you’re a veteran. And that is a badge of honor, not something to be ashamed about. These lessons have proven beneficial as I navigate my way through this new chapter. I’m reassured to know that the military trained me to face challenges. The roadmap to transitioning into civilian employment is like a tricky Land Navigation course-in the dark, with end points too close together to discern…but if you over or undershoot, as long as you keep moving, you’ll eventually get somewhere.
Jennifer Peña is a board-certified, internal medicine physician with over 10 years of clinical experience. Currently working as a Virtual Primary Care Physician for Oscar Insurance and as a PRN/Part-time provider for the INOVA VIP 360 concierge and executive medicine practice. She transitioned out of active duty service in the U.S. Army on January 2019, most recently serving in the White House Medical Unit as primary Physician to the Vice President of the United States. She has extensive experience in executive medicine, providing high quality, patient-centered and comprehensive primary care in a concierge model. She is experienced in leading and collaborating with multidisciplinary teams and the use of telemedicine to ensure world-wide access to quality healthcare.