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Beyond MD: Why Some Doctors Choose Nonclinical Careers

Posted by Scott Harrah
July 31, 2015

Most students at American and Caribbean medical schools pursue a Doctor of Medicine degree (MD) so they can practice medicine and become any of the medical specialties from a pediatrician, family physician, psychiatrist to a neurologist or heart surgeon. However, there are indeed careers one can pursue with an MD besides being a traditional doctor in a clinical setting.

The UMHS Endeavour looks at some of the alternative nonclinical careers for people with an MD, based on various online sources. We will explain why individuals with an MD sometimes choose to enter alternative fields, and we will give examples of opportunities in academia, working for pharmaceutical or insurance companies, physician recruiting, medical writing and more.

Nonclinical Careers for People with an MD

After all the years of hard work and money spent on medical school, why would a person with an MD seek a career other than being a doctor? According to a 2010 survey by The Physicians Foundation, a surprising 40% of doctors “planned to drop out of patient care in the next 1-3 years, either by retiring or seeking a nonclinical job,” an article on said last year.

Doctors often choose nonclinical careers at different stages in their lives. For some, after completing residency, they decide going into private practice just isn’t for them, but they still want to make a difference in medicine in a nonclinical setting. Others wait until the middle of their careers (say, late 30s or 40s) to pursue something else, from academia to technology to business. It really depends on the individual.

Following is a brief look at nonclinical careers for individuals with an MD.

As an article on DGI Wire eloquently puts it, “There are myriad opportunities for an MD to help make people’s lives better and live out the dream of working in the medical field besides wearing a white coat and diagnosing patients. Some find their calling in academia while others discover they have a passion for the business side of medicine and opt to work in pharmaceuticals."

Joseph Kim, MD runs a website called Nonclinical Jobs, listed as “resources for physicians interested in non-clinical jobs and careers.” Dr. Kim was interviewed by for the article “I’ve Had It With Medicine! 16 Options for Second Careers”.

"These physicians have been in practice for a number of years and are getting burned out. They tend to be very disenchanted about the changes in healthcare," Dr. Kim told "They want to find greener grass. They might go into pharma, health insurance, managed care, or health resource utilization." lists the following possible nonclinical career options for MDs. Brief descriptions from the article about each nonclinical career are included below.

Nonclinical Careers for MDs: From

Move Into Hospital Administration

“Hospital administration is a long-standing option for physicians, and the opportunities are expanding as hospitals try to align more closely with their doctors. For a practicing physician who is no longer feeling challenged by patient care, here's a chance to make a big difference across a whole institution and still earn a good living.”

Become a Physician Advisor at Your Hospital

“Once a part-time position for physicians nearing retirement, the physician advisor is now usually a full-time gig filled by doctors in mid-career.”

Start a Practice Management Consultancy

“Thousands of physicians have started practice management consultancy firms, based on a skill they learned when they ran a practice, such as coding, claims processing, or practice efficiency.”

Review Insurance Claims

“There's a growing demand for physicians to help payers with utilization review (UR),” due to the Affordable Care Act, says.

Get a Job in the Pharma Sector

“Physicians can easily develop a side income by speaking about a drug to colleagues on behalf of a pharmaceutical company, but full-time work in pharma is more difficult to obtain. Although a few physicians work on the marketing side, most are involved in research and development. Even here, the field is hard to break into, in part owing to a complex set of rules and regulations not found anywhere else in medicine.”

Become a Physician Recruiter

“One unusual but financially rewarding job is to recruit physicians for various jobs, such as clinical research, hospital employment, and group practice. As with many other jobs that require interaction with a lot with doctors, it helps to be a physician and understand what makes them tick.”

Become a Freelance Writer (Medical)

“Do you like to write? If so, and you can prove that you have a talent for it, there are countless clinical writing and editing opportunities with pharmaceutical companies, marketing agencies, CME contractors, quality and performance improvement initiatives, and medical publications. In most cases, the work is done on a freelance basis, which means you have to build up your business.”

Become a Teacher

“Many doctors dream of becoming teachers, and for a lot of them, it's a good fit in many ways. Physicians know how to talk to patients about complicated medical concepts in simple terms, and they have had to speak in front of small groups. However, opportunities are limited to part-time work at colleges, and the pay doesn't match what can be made in clinical care.'

Incomes vary for the nonclinical careers listed above.

Doing research about nonclinical careers for MDS is crucial, and there are numerous websites and organizations (as well as conferences) to guide you. The website Non-Clinical Careers for Physicians from SEAK (a continuing education, consulting and publishing company) has a lot of useful information, and an upcoming “Non-Clinical Careers” conference in Chicago on October 25 and 26, 2015.

(Top image) CAN YOU STILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN MEDICINE AS AN MD IN A NONCLINICAL JOB? Yes. Many MDs go into such nonclinical careers as physician recruiting, medical writing, working for a pharmaceutical company, biotechnology, academia & more. Photo: Working at Desk Cartoon.svg from Wikimedia Commons/ License: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0

About UMHS:

Built in the tradition of the best US universities, the University of Medicine and Health Sciencesfocuses on individual student attention, maintaining small class sizes and recruiting high-quality faculty. We call this unique approach, “personalized medical education,” and it’s what has led to our unprecedented 96% student retention rate, and outstanding residency placements across the US and Canada.

Posted by Scott Harrah

Scott is Director of Digital Content & Alumni Communications Liaison at UMHS and editor of the UMHS Endeavour blog. When he's not writing about UMHS students, faculty, events, public health, alumni and UMHS research, he writes and edits Broadway theater reviews for a website he publishes in New York City,

Topics: Medical School Medicine and Health

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