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Non-Clinical Opportunities for Physicians

Created May 17, 2008 by Joseph Kim, MD
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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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