5 Tips For Physicians Interested In Nonclinical Careers

There are myriad work options for doctors outside patient care settings. Pharmaceutical, health technology, management consulting, and insurance companies, among others, all depend on the clinical and medical expertise that physicians can offer in product development and service delivery. Nonclinical options for doctors aren’t limited to the for-profit sector. Government agencies, academic institutions, and nonprofits also need physicians to ensure that the best interests of patients and clinicians are considered as they carry out their visions.

Many physicians interested in a nonclinical career don’t end up pursuing one. This can be a result of lacking knowledge about nonclinical job options, not knowing what type of job is a good fit, or feeling stuck in a clinical setting. Here are five tips to help physicians overcome these barriers and find a fitting and satisfying career in an atypical setting.

1. Stop Second-Guessing Yourself

It’s common for doctors who aren’t happy in full-time clinical work to second-guess their interest in leaving patient care. Patient care is, after all, what we spend most of our time focused on throughout medical school and residency. Thinking about transitioning to a nonclinical career can be accompanied by feelings of guilt or inadequacy. Though understandable, these feelings are not warranted.

Physicians in nonclinical roles rely heavily on their clinical experience and medical knowledge. Rather than using medical skills to manage an individual patient, they might use it to answer questions and make decisions about a policy, study, concept, design, or other work product that will ultimately affect the health of patients or populations and the way that care is delivered to them. A doctor’s medical training doesn’t go to waste in these situations; it is merely being used in a different way.

Taking a nonclinical job doesn’t mean you’re “selling out” or “leaving medicine.” This realization can be significant in progressing a physician who feels unfulfilled from inaction to taking tangible steps toward a career change.

2. Learn About Your Options

One of the reasons many physicians don’t act on their desire to transition out of clinical work is that they simply don’t know what their options are. The fact that nonclinical careers for physicians span many industries, sectors, and organizational types can make it difficult to identify all the possibilities. 

Time spent educating yourself on nonclinical options is time well spent. By not putting in effort to learn about nonclinical career types and the role of physicians within them, you risk pursuing a job that is not the best fit for you or potentially even remaining in a clinical role in which you’re not truly happy.

3. Think Broadly in How You Define ‘Experience’

Doctors often feel that they aren’t qualified for the nonclinical jobs that interest them. Job advertisements stating that three to five or more years of experience in the field or industry is enough to prevent many physicians from applying, though they may actually be great candidates.

Never having had a full-time nonclinical job does not mean that you have no relevant experience. Clinical work relies on a lot of the same skills that are important for nonclinical jobs. These include both soft skills, such as communication, and technical skills, such as quality improvement techniques or statistical analysis. Coming from clinical work, it’s important to think broadly about your skills and how they can be applied to different types of responsibilities.

4. Take On Nonclinical Responsibilities In Your Current Position

In addition to considering their skills broadly, physicians interested in nonclinical careers can improve their qualifications and experience by taking on nonclinical responsibilities while still in their clinical positions. Ways to accomplish this include joining committees and task forces covering topics such as performance improvement, utilization management, and clinical informatics. Developing organizational policies, offering to help prepare for audits, and facilitating staff education are other ways to gain experience for the types of tasks that are frequently performed in nonclinical roles.

Experience can also be gained outside of one’s current place of employment. This can be done through part-time or consulting work for another organization, volunteering, pro bono work, or other avenues. Professional associations are constantly seeking physicians interested in getting involved in their educational, research, and advocacy initiatives. Local and national health-related nonprofits often seek skilled volunteers and board members.

Time and effort spent in building up your portfolio of nonclinical experience will make you a better candidate for jobs outside of traditional clinical settings, both on paper and in interviews. Furthermore, it will increase your comfort level and productivity at your new nonclinical position.

5. Scrap Your CV For A Thoughtfully Written Resume

It’s expected that physicians in academia will use a CV to track and communicate their professional experience. A CV is also acceptable when applying to most clinical jobs outside of academia. Applications for nonclinical jobs, however, should include a resume instead of a CV.

A resume highlights your relevant experiences and accomplishments, rather than acting as a comprehensive list of all your professional activities. For an employer trying to identify the best candidate in a stack of applicants, a well-written, job-specific resume can mean the difference between an interview invitation and the recycle bin.

Conclusion

Most physicians, even without professional experience in a nonclinical position, are great candidates for many types of nonclinical jobs. By being proactive and arming yourself with information about your various options, you can set yourself up for a successful job search and transition to a rewarding nonclinical career.

Sylvie Stacy, MD, MPH is a preventive medicine physician and blogger at Look for Zebras. Her book "50 Nonclinical Careers for Physicians" was recently published by the American Association for Physician Leadership.

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