Non-Clinical Opportunities for Physicians

by Joseph Kim, MD
Reprinted with Permission

If you’re a physician and you’re considering a non-clinical career, you may be wondering about all the opportunities out there. I get asked about this all the time. Over the years, I’ve had a chance to meet different physicians working in various companies and industries; here are my observations.

First, ask yourself what you enjoy. After all, if you don’t enjoy clinical medicine, you don’t want to end up doing something else you’re not going to enjoy. Then, start networking like crazy. Leverage all the online social networking sites (like LinkedIn, Facebook, Plaxo, etc.) and get reconnected with old colleagues, classmates, and friends. Find out what people are doing. They may help you get connected to some key people. You may find some of the best opportunities this way. 

The following list of opportunities is clearly not exhaustive. This list is based on my personal interactions with people in these roles and as I meet more people, the list grows.

  1. Healthcare administration — Are you a seasoned healthcare executive? Do you enjoy making administrative decisions? Then join the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) and run a hospital or a managed care organization. If you have a strong interest in managed care, then check out the NAMCP (National Association of Managed Care Physicians). You may want to get an MBA or an MMM (masters in medical management). A valid medical license is required for most (if not all) of these positions.
  2. Venture capital and finance — Got an MBA? If not, are you thinking of getting one? Some will argue that once you have an “M.D.” after your name, it may not matter as much where you get your MBA. However, I would argue that your MBA is your path to networking opportunities, so where you get your MBA is critical if you want to have a solid network. Once you get your MBA, you can work for venture capital (VC) firms, dig into market research companies, or work for Wall Street. Heard of the Gerson Lehrman Group (www.glgroup.com)? No clinical experience necessary for many of these opportunities. In fact, many joint MD/MBA students have ventured directly into very successful careers this way. Also, an MBA is not necessary if you have some good business skills and understand the healthcare industry.
  3. Writing and medical communications — Do you enjoy writing? Many physicians and non-physicians have very successful careers as medical writers. The field is open to people who enjoy fiction writing, publications, research, or other types of writing. You can get involved working on journal publications, developing promotional content for marketing campaigns, or developing CME programs. Join the AMWA (American Medical Writers Association) and look for opportunities. You can work from home as a freelance writer and have a very flexible schedule. Or, you can work for a publisher or another type of healthcare communications company. You can find a list of some companies by looking at the North American Association of Medical Education and Communication Companies, Inc., (NAAMECC) website. No clinical experience is necessary.
  4. Technology and Informatics — Want to develop or improve an electronic health record (EHR) system? Do you love informatics? Then join the CCHIT (Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology), the AMIA (American Medical Informatics Association), and the AHIMA (American Health Information Management Association). Clinicians use EHRs and patients (or consumers) use PHRs (Personal Health Records). There are many companies attempting to integrate the data between PHRs and EHRs. There is a national initiative to improve and standardize public health informatics, so now is a great time to enter this industry. No clinical experience is necessary, but you should be familiar with ICD, CPT, and other billing codes used in this industry.
  5. Disease management — Managed care organizations (MCOs) are always looking for better disease management (DM) programs for their plans. Some MCOs develop their own DM plans and others outsource them to external companies. These companies create and deliver various services to managed care organizations, including DM, wellness programs, personal health record services, etc. Do you ever get educational pamphlets from your own health plan? Who puts them together? Who designs and develops these wellness and preventive health programs? It’s not always WebMD. There are other companies that provide similar services.
  6. Pharma/Biotech/Device — If you’re a medical specialist, there are many opportunities to do research for these companies. If you don’t enjoy research, then you can develop marketing strategies. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertisements have become very popular these days. See all those ads in the medical journals? Get ready for that “corporate America” lifestyle if you plan to venture into industry. You may be working even more hours and carrying a Blackberry instead of a pager, but if you climb that “corporate ladder” and play the corporate game, you may qualify for an early retirement.
  7. Expert witnessing — Personal injury, medical malpractice, nursing home care, etc. There are firms that specialize in specific areas (like nursing home cases). Want more information? Take a look at www.seak.com.
  8. Public health — Get an MPH, join the APHA (American Public Health Association), and find a local health department. Or, join the CDC and travel the world. Develop strategies to improve population health. Some pharmaceutical companies also have public health sections and are very devoted to public health and international health. Bridge gaps in healthcare disparities.
  9. Consulting — The world is open. Want to work for yourself or for a company? Many healthcare companies are looking for experts to help them develop, refine, and improve their products and services. It may be hard to get started unless you’ve already established connections. Once again, networking becomes critical.
  10. Research — Academia vs. private vs. industry vs. CRO. You don’t have to go into industry to do research. Look for a Contract Research Organization (CRO) in your area. Join the ACRO (Association of Clinical Research Organizations).
  11. Start a company — Have an innovative idea? New companies seem to be sprouting all the time. Stay connected with people and keep your eyes open for new ideas. Get an MBA and meet people who can help you get a concept off the ground.

Not sure where to start? As I mentioned above, start building your social and professional network. Reconnect with people and ask many questions. Find people who are in various positions and ask them what they like/dislike.

Join some associations to build your network and to find companies:

ACHE: American College of Healthcare Executives
ACPE: American College of Physician Executives
ACRO: Association of Clinical Research Organizations
AHIMA: American Health Information Management Association
AMIA: American Medical Informatics Association
AMWA: American Medical Writers Association
APHA: American Public Health Association
CCHIT: Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology
NAMCP: National Association of Managed Care Physicians

National Association of MD/MBA Students

Finally, you may want to take a look at these programs:
MBA in a Day
SEAK – Non-clinical careers for physicians

Visit the author’s blog: http://mdjosephkim.blogspot.com/

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45 Responses to “Non-Clinical Opportunities for Physicians”

  1. Anonymous says:

    also journalism like CNN DR. SUNJAY GUPTA

  2. SM says:

    I personally know of an MD internist who decided to leave the field of medicine and open up an extremely successful international medical transcription company, a medical billing company, and an urgent care. He has made millions off of his 3 ventures.

  3. wateravatar says:

    This was amazing! What a great post. Is there any way we can get in contact with Dr. Kim? I have given my SDN username above.

  4. nice post…..

    i think u forgot one really important avenues for us docs….

    biomedical engineering…..extreme potential……lots of opportunities even now….and expected to increase exponentially in next 5 years….and its really interesting to be in as well…….

    do give ur comments on this…..

  5. I’m glad to hear that some people found this post useful. For those who want to ask me any direct questions or if you’d like me to help you get connected with some people, either: 1) send me a PM (username is mdjkim on the forums); 2) leave a comment on my blog (http://mdjosephkim.blogspot.com/) with a way for me to respond
    or
    3) create an account on LinkedIn and send me a personal message. LinkedIn is a great way to network with old colleagues and professionals. You may find some great leads there.

  6. Deepak, I lumped biomedical engineering into #6 – devices. However, since biomedical engineering covers a much broader scope, I agree that it should probably be listed separately. After all, nanotechnology is a very hot area right now.

    The other point I want to make is this: many device companies and biomedical companies rely on physicians as consultants. Hence, it may be difficult to find full-time employment (with a reasonable salary). However, you may find opportunities to consult for Contract Research Organizations (CROs) that work on devices and biomedical projects.

  7. By the way, a few months ago I created a devoted blog on the topic of “non-clinical opportunities for clinicians.”

    You can find this blog here:

    http://nonclinical.blogspot.com/

  8. Vroom says:

    Ask yourself why did you become a doctor. Try few years in clinicals to see if you enjoy it. If not then the non clinical is good too !

  9. Anonymous says:

    Two words: HEDGE FUNDS

  10. Every other week, I seem to meet physicians and other clinicians who are so burned out from clinical medicine. It’s really a shame, but our healthcare system is falling apart and clinicians are working even harder than ever to care for patients. The workload is getting unbearable for many, so they’re looking for something that offers a better work/life balance.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Look at the comments on Sermo. That will tell you what clinical medicine is really like.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Good options listed above, so if you’re not interested in clinical work please go with one of them and don’t become a “No” doctor at some insurance company where all you do is say no.

  13. LJ says:

    How about providing expertise and advice to medically related shows, ie House, ER, Gray’s, and all the other doctor shows? I guess that could go under “consulting”.

  14. Interested in writing stories, TV shows, books, etc? Take a look at this:

    Medical Fiction Writing For Physicians

    http://www.seak.com/semMedFictWrit06.htm

  15. Anonymous says:

    Personally, I feel as one who took years to get in to medical school with a lot of extra effort required, I see going into a non-clinical/laboratory field after having received your M.D. is a waste of your time and a waste of a spot in a medical school. With shortages of thousands of primary care doctors, these selfish individuals are complicit in depleting the diminishing number of practicing physicians in this country. There are plenty of other routes through business school, law school, or journalism school that people who want to be involved in medicine without being a practicing doctor can do without eating up spots in medical school. Medical school isn’t something you do on a whim just because you can, its something that you’re committing your whole life to. Its a great responsibility to have one of these coveted spots and those who go on to not use it, are wasting their time.

  16. There are many reasons why physicians and other clinicians pursue non-clinical careers. I meet physicians who get disabled from diseases like RA, and they’re no longer able to practice medicine. Other physicians get an MPH and pursue non-clinical careers with ambitions to impact population health. Others may wish to work more with healthcare administration and improve hospitals and health systems. Those who are more interested in research and science may wish to find cures for disease. Hence, there are many different reasons and one cannot simply assume that the reasons are selfish.

  17. Kevin Cron, MD says:

    I would agree with Dr. Kim. Much of the current health-care dilemma is due to the williness of physicians to quietly see patient after patient in clinic and leave the administation to others. On the other hand, we have all known bitter, burned out physicians who are just gutting their way through practice despite being brilliant with numbers. I agree that all potential physicians should expect and be prepared to perform a certain measure of clinical practice, but there are many vital roles in medicine which would be best staffed by a physician, and which do not involve a lot of clinical exposure.

  18. dzmb says:

    Dear Sir/Madam

    I am a General Practioner working in one of Governmental Hospitals in Ethiopia. I have a great ambition to study& even to be researcher in infectious diseases and tropical medicine but here there is very limitation to get the chance. I am working with common tropical diseases like Malaria, Kalazar, HIV-AIDS and also other SEXUALLY TRANSMITED DISEASES for the last 3 years.

    Thinking that you will help me your best, I am asking you how I will be successful!

    Thank you for your consideration and taking time!

    Dr Zelalem (MD),

    BAHIRDAR
    ETHIOPIA

  19. Anonymous says:

    I agree there are situations in which a physician may be no longer able to practice. I don’t disagree with those who do decide on different career paths after going through a troublesome situation like a physical disability. However, I was commenting more on those who leave practice with no other purpose than to make much more money doing work in corporations, pharmaceuticals, journalism etc… There are other ways to obtain those positions without wasting your time going to medical school and eating up those spots that other students would gladly take and serve decades as clinicians helping to meet the shortage of doctors that there is currently in the country. I think we have a responsibility to those who gave us the spot in medical school to go and meet that shortage.

  20. STAPH says:

    Nice post–thanks, I’ve bookmarked it for future reference when the time comes for me to make this decision. As of now just worrying about completing Step 1 and the latter half of school but I will keep this in the back of my mind when talk of residencies starts up.

  21. MH. MD says:

    Very important and vital post! Obtaining a MD degree does not mean one should work as a clinical physician at all. Many jobs related to the patient and hospital could be managed much better by a non-practicing physician rather than other graduates. The sight and vision of a physician quite differs other specialists. We must accept that medicine today is related to cooperation of multi jobs and professions and eventually, a “clean” physician out of clinical practice could be positive to the patient as those clinicians. Those who disagree with Dr. Kim might be young with lack of experience or narrow minded. Apart from the business, if you want to erect your hospital which do prefer as the superintendent: a non practicing physician or a non physician? How can you expect from a non MD graduate to run the hospital? How does he know about MRSA and etc? Yes at a glance it seems that a MD graduate wasted his/her time to shift to another job, but the reality is that this MD has got enough experience and skill to run another job to provide better services to the patients on the whole. However, if a physician merely shifts to another job which is not related to the patient services and just for having more money, in this case he is not fair. In general we have to see why does a physician shift to another job? As some mentioned before there are variety of reasons for shifting. Please don’t judge before listening to them!!!!!!
    In short I agree with Dr. Kim’s post and thanks to him who opened new topics universally.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Talk is cheap yo, I like to see the person who criticizes others for switching out of medicine
    gain some experience first. Once you practice as an internist for 20 years working 80 hour weeks and making less than you local convience shop owner, THEN you have the right to voice an opinion. Cuz right now, for all we know you might switch out of medicine once you realize you’ll never pay off your debt seeing medicaid patients in bum town USA. And heck, even then, assertions of selfishness might just be sour grapes for those who are stuck in this increasingly brutal field.

  23. future doc says:

    if i am not mistaken, dr. sunjay gupta also practices, maybe someone else knows more about him. i do not think he is simply a journalist as of right now.

  24. Anonymous #2 says:

    I agree with anonymous. Yes, I agree the current state of affairs in doctoring make it difficult to practice. However, if you take the attitude that you are in the field to ultimately help and care for your patients and not yourself then you can think about how medicine can better serve patients (not doctors) and only then can medical care reform begin. Too many doctors are looking out for themselves either financially (working the system) or changing careers. Medicine is a very noble job and if you truly went into medicine for the right reasons then it would be important enough to you as an advocate for your patients to help them to get better. Do I think I’m being unrealistic? NO!

  25. Interesting... says:

    Hey, interesting article. It would be very interesting to find out what educational backgrounds some of the MD’s in business have and what was their timeline… Because Medicine in itself is a taxing and time-consuming… By the time one comes out of residency they are in their early 30s and may be in depth or just even. Where does one go from here? Spend 2 years in fellowship, 2 years in MBA, 10 years getting clinical experience. We are looking at mid 40s by now. I am lost… but you guys get the idea… I need a model to follow or atleast to understand how to get into these non-traditional fields.

  26. Anonymous 2 says:

    It would be great to know the non-clinical opportunities that exist for foreign medical graduates who for some reason can’t get licensed in United States, as it is increasingly getting competitive to find the residency slots.

  27. The opportunities are mostly the same when you’re looking at things related to medical communications, consulting, writing, etc. In most of these cases, you don’t need an active US medical license. Hence, whether you are an international graduate or a US graduate, the opportunities may be very similar. I’m not going to get into issues related to getting a work Visa because that’s an entirely complex topic in and of itself.

  28. SRMD says:

    For those of us who are already in practice, but have become disillusioned or burned out in our current specialty, how unusual is it to see someone go back to complete a residency in a different field? Any advice on how to lay the foundation for this type of move? Is it even possible?

  29. Joseph Kim, MD, MPH says:

    Medicare helps to fund residency salary and there are limits on how many post-graduate years of Medicare funding a physician may receive. Therefore, one challenge is rooted in the funding issue. If you’re willing to go through a residency and work for free, then you may have a chance at something.

  30. PM says:

    I would like to thank Dr Kim for addressing this very important topic..
    I am a Foriegn Medical Graduate,an OB-GYN in my country.However,at present am in US,am ECFMG certified but did not match in any Residency program.I was wondering if I am eligible to get into any Clinical Research Programs/jobs as a physician.If yes,how do I get about it .And if not,what is the eligibility criteria.Are there any other non clinical jobs that I may be considered eligible for?

  31. Joseph Kim, MD, MPH says:

    PM, I know of several different foreign medical graduates who have landed excellent positions in the area you have described. It’s hard to describe how each has gotten there because it really does vary. Some people have the right connections. For others, they may start with some research in academia (USA university). These are just a few examples of how people eventually reach these goals.

  32. PM says:

    Dr Kim,

    Thanks for your response.Yes,I do believe that the right connections help in this quest and Research positions too are a good way to begin.Thanks again.

  33. David at LSHTM says:

    Dear sir and madam
    I am general practitioner and I want to know what opportunity i have if i take a master in tropical medicine and international healt in London.
    thank you
    yours faithfully

  34. Joseph Kim, MD, MPH says:

    David, my apologies, but I am not very familiar with the opportunities in London. However, it sounds like you want to focus on epidemiology, so I would suggest that you pursue an MPH. Upon graduation, I would think that you’d have many job opportunities. Best of luck to you.

  35. stylo says:

    Dea Kim , i’ve just came across this article of your’s , i’m a foreign medical graduate in U.S who unforunately couldn’t persue practising lisence to practise / get into match/ work as a doctor, after that heartbreak which happened end of 2008 i’m now planning to do MPH now as i just can’t think of anthing other than serving the community at my best, i’m totally blank as to how get into MPH program , can u suggest me anything ? i’ll try sendin u PM as well , any sort of advice would be helful for me thanks

  36. MN says:

    Dear Dr. Kim,

    I came across your great article here just now (2009). Thank you for taking your time and your sincerity in empathizing with the readers. I graduated from med school in 1989 but through a strange destiny went on the lesser trodden path of being a non-clinical professional.

    Given the current economic climate, the grass looks greener on the other side- as a clinician! I have been so out of it and cannot picture myself in any specialty now without lots of training. Any advice on how to start- any residency training programs geared for re-entrants/older graduates for instance? CMEs would not be adequate and I was thinking more in lines of foreign graduates who simply have to all undergo basic training in the US again.

    Thanks Kim

  37. Dr. Joseph Kim says:

    MN, There are many re-entry programs for physicians who have completed residency training. I think given the fact that you did not complete, it will be very difficult (but probably not impossible) for you to re-enter. Start with your medical school and see what type of information you can find there. Best of luck to you.

  38. WILLIAM MAZZEI III says:

    I read with great interest many of the comments here. I have practiced medicine as a family doctor since 1997. I have decided to transition out of clinical practice.
    It’s quite a daunting task when seeing patients is the only work you have ever known and you have so much invested in medicine as a career and as a much more.
    Many times, though we may not see it, we are defined by our work as doctors.
    I wanted to comment because I feel that physicians are so fragmented and impotent as a group to effect important changes that need to occur in the best interest of us as doctors. When this happens we will be in the best position possible to dictate how we take care of people.
    We are certainly not in control of medicine now.
    That is not why I want to transition my career, but how can we as doctors ever hope to do what we think is best for our patients when we have lost control of our business ?
    We have no powerful voice that speaks for, advocates on behalf of, or echoes our collective concerns.
    We have no war chest to tap into that can compete with the corporate monolith of Goliath.
    It is worth noting that Mayo clinic does not accept medicare as payment for services. Do you need to ask why this is so ?
    I hope that in some way we can start to help each other as much as we help our patients.
    Perhaps some of us will start with a blank piece of paper and pen how each of us would like to see our ideal practice.
    Does anyone really disagree with the idea of doctor controlling medicine ?
    I have heard the arguments of fraud and abuse that put down this idea.
    Well, if this is ones logic, we should dispose of all branches of government.

    I would appreciate your sharing any resources that you have which may help me in my transition.

  39. yinka says:

    any chance for a doctor that has his licence revoked?

  40. anonymous#? says:

    Dr. Kim, thanks for your site!
    I fell ill in medical school with a rare neurological disease misdiagnosed as stress/depression. I have my MD but am still recovering and am way too fatigued at this point to even think about applying into residency or even an intern or transitional year. With each passing year, I become more concerned that I will at some point not even qualify to apply into residency, should my health miraculously return to normal.
    Any suggestions? I enjoy writing. I also enjoy creating artwork and am thinking about selling my work on a site called Etsy, but haven’t tried it yet.
    Thanks again for your site!

  41. Dr. Payam Ebizadeh says:

    Teaching….. There is alot of opportunities for physicians who are looking to do non-clinical work. You can teach for Prep courses helping medical students and residents prepare for their USMLE Exams. It’s a great experience and very rewarding. I am a Radiologist and now involved in recruiting for Kaplan Medical. If you are interested in finding more info you can contact me at:

    [email protected]

  42. xunera says:

    hello everyone. this is a great post. i graduated from medical school a year ago and i have 9 months of clinical experience. i want to persue a non clinical career but im very confused about what options i have. do i need to pass the license exam of usa or australia to do so? do i need another degree like mba or mph for this? any help would be highly appreciated

  43. Anthony-Hage says:

    Hello Dr. Joseph, im a medical student in my 6th year now in Lebanon and i have a few questions about a consulting job. I would like to work for a company in north america, so can you please explain to me the degree i need to have to accomplish this. I am prepared to finish up and travel to the states to get an MBA if it is required. And can you please clear up the job description a little for me, because i am still not quite familiar with what it consists of per say. Thank you very much for any help you may offer, it will be much appreciated.

  44. Gedion Tefera(MD,MPH) says:

    I liked this site. I am medical doctor working in Ethiopia and stopped practicing medicne after I worked for six years. I shifted into public health and have been working in one of international NGOs for the last 8 years. I got also my MPH, I personaly beleive that both fields are important and there are many non clinical opprtunities for medical doctors which are very much related to health . In this way they can help and impact many people specially in developing countries by adreesing diseases which need public health intervention like malaria,TB,malnutrition,HIV,neglected tropical diseases,vaccine preventable diseases the list goes. One thing I dislike about clinical practice in Ethiopian context is it is not very much supported by reserach and it is very much routine. I mean the type of drugs prescribed.

  45. Dr. TAS says:

    I am limited by no DEA license at present in KY. Can’t practice in hospital. Clinic is down. This was an unjust loss but I have to deal with it. Are there any recruiters for non-clinical jobs for doctors?