Katie Abouzah, a doctor turned management consultant for Boston Consulting Group shares her thoughts on changing careers.
Q: What do management consultants do?
A: Essentially, management consultants advise companies and organisations. The work is very variable, and ranges from strategy projects to operational changes to an organisation’s manufacturing plants. Work is project-based, and so varies hugely, depending on the project and the client. It is similar to medicine in this respect, where day-to-day work depends on which specialty you work in and in which hospital.
Q: So there are quite a few similarities with medicine?
A: Yes. Both in terms of the essence of the work (companies come to you with a symptom and you have to make a diagnosis and recommend treatment) and the way you work. Projects are based around teams with a similar hierarchy to a medical on-call team. It is similar to the old medical on-call system, when you were always on call with your team and you didn’t hand over to anyone else. It can be quite intense, but ultimately you have a sense of ownership over your work, which is quite rewarding.
Q: What is different compared with working as a doctor?
A: The conditions in which you work are totally different. The facilities and support are excellent, and people are constantly thinking about your development, training and wellbeing, which is a change. For example, if a computer breaks down, they will courier spare parts to you, and if you work late at night, they’ll provide food and transport home. Everything is done so that your ability to do the work is as high as it possibly can be. Although the hours can be long, they are never as stressful or as messy as your average medical on-call.
Q: Is it possible to specialise in health-related management consulting?
A: Yes, absolutely. Here at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), you’re not pushed either way and can choose which area you wish to specialise in. There are also specialist healthcare consulting firms out there if people are keen on doing only healthcare. The scope of healthcare consulting is huge and includes public sector consulting, private hospitals, pharmaceutical organisations and medical device companies.
Q: What led you to move from medicine to management consulting?
A: I never originally intended to leave medicine. However, I applied for registrar training posts at the time of MMC and felt that I needed to have some back-up options in case it didn’t work out. These included medical jobs abroad, but also management consulting with a couple of big firms. In the end, I was lucky enough to get a radiology number at St Mary’s, but by that time, consulting at BCG seemed like the more attractive option.
Q: What sort of work have you found yourself doing?
A: My first project was in private equity. Since then, I’ve stayed in healthcare, which is a choice, working with large pharmaceutical organisations and private healthcare groups.
Q: Was it a bit like being thrown in the deep end?
A: No, not only was I part of an experienced team, but I was also assigned a formal career adviser, an informal adviser, and a female mentor. There were plenty of people to turn to for help. Moreover, the company I work for offers regular formal training; this has included three weeks of induction split between London and Munich, and a further week’s training in Paris after six months. For non-traditional hires like medics, there is also the opportunity to attend a ‘business essentials’ programme in Boston after a year.
Q: Trying to get a job with a leading management consultancy must be pretty competitive. How can a doctor make their CV stand out?
A: CVs should be no more than two sides. List medical jobs rather than going into any detail and then highlight the skills you have gained as a doctor. Medics have a tendency to underestimate themselves and assume the only thing they can do is medicine, but some of the basic skills that medics take for granted are among the most prized in consulting – skills such as time management, prioritisation of resources, making difficult decisions under pressure and working in teams. The other thing that Boston Consulting Group looks for is evidence of a well-rounded candidate, so extracurricular activities are important.
Q: What can you expect if you make it through to the interview stage?
A: There are usually two to three one-hour interviews, and most follow the same format. The first twenty minutes are centred on the candidate’s CV and reasons for application. The next section will focus on real-life situations – things like team leadership and managing difficult situations. There should be plenty to talk about for medics – experience of on-calls, leading crash teams or managing a difficult night’s ward cover. The final 20 minutes will be a case study, where candidates need to show that they can think in a logical, structured way. While medics are trained to do this, preparation is essential, and there are plenty of resources available to help revise for this part of the interview.
Q: How do salaries and hours of work compare?
A: Salaries are a plus. Entry-level salaries are about comparable with those in medicine, but the good news is that from then on salaries always go up and don’t depend on any banding system. Expect to work long hours during the week, maybe 9am until 8pm, although this can vary depending on the project. The real advantage in terms of hours is that there is no weekend work, no night shifts, and the office closes between Christmas and the new year and on bank holidays.
Q: How family-friendly is management consulting?
A: Traditionally, consulting wasn’t particularly family-friendly, but companies like BCG have made huge changes to enable people to work more flexibly. There is good maternity leave and there are plenty of female role models higher up who have children and work part-time. Balancing a career and a family is never easy but it is possible, especially with no night shifts to consider.
Q: What are the longer-term career prospects?
A: The choices are endless and include consulting, banking, healthcare (private or public), pharmaceuticals, international organisations and running your own business. In medicine, everything is always relatively predetermined, and having so much choice makes a welcome change.
Q: What do you think are the main pros and cons compared with a career in medicine?
A: The major advantage relative to medicine is that you can regain a sense of control over your career. Some of the important decisions in medicine seem to be made at the whim of the system – sometimes you would be lucky with job applications and sometimes you wouldn’t. The work/life balance is also a definite plus – particularly not working night shifts or weekends. The downside is that you are no longer a practising doctor, which can be difficult to come to terms with after so long in medicine.
Q: How can doctors interested in the career find out more?
A: There are two very useful websites – vault.com and wetfeet.com. Doing a basic internet search will provide more information, and Mark Cosentino’s book Case in Point is a good introduction to the case interviews, as is his website casequestions.com. For careers advice and job opportunities in management consulting, insidecareers.co.uk is a useful resource.
A selection of consultancies and accounting corporations with consulting arms: