8 nonclinical jobs for physicians without residency

One of the many things I love about having a medical degree is the huge breadth of work it allows for. Opportunities for doctors span way beyond the hospital and clinic setting. We can offer value within pharmaceuticals, public health, the insurance industry, and more.

Whatever your reason is for not completing a residency, don’t let it hold you back from using your medical degree to have a fulfilling, lucrative career. Here is a rundown of some great jobs for physicians without a residency.

1Management Consultant

Management and business consulting firms hire MDs for several reasons:

  • Physicians tend to be bright and are willing to work hard
  • Many firms have clients within the healthcare, health insurance, and biotech fields
  • An advanced degree can boost legitimacy in the client’s eyes

As a consultant, you can expect to be placed on a small team that is tasked with solving a challenge that a client company is having. They may be considering an acquisition, exploring a new line of business, or looking to cut costs. With many firms, you can expect to spend a few months or more focused almost entirely on a single project. You might be expected to work at the client site most or all of that time, which may require a lot of travel.

Management consulting firms come in a range of sizes and types. The “big 3” consulting firms – McKinsey, BCG, and Bain – are competitive to get a job with due to their great reputations and opportunities for career advancement. Small, less well-known companies may be easier to get hired and might have a focus on healthcare that is more fitting to your particular interests.

2Clinical Documentation Improvement Specialist

Clinical documentation improvement (CDI) specialists are a link between practicing clinicians and medical coders. They aim to ensure that documentation in a hospital or outpatient setting is complete and accurate, in order to obtain the appropriate insurance reimbursement and confirm that the hospital’s data is an accurate reflection of the care actually being provided at the facility.

CDI specialists often have a nursing background; however, I’ve come across multiple job openings indicating that a medical degree is acceptable or preferred. This role is commonly employed by a hospital system, though some hospitals use a third party organization for their CDI program.

3Medical Science Liaison

Medical science liaison (MSL) is an excellent career to consider if you love the science of medicine. You’ll work within a therapeutic area of a pharmaceutical company to exchange information between the company and providers, facilities, and decision-makers who are likely to use a drug or medical product one it’s approved.

This role involves a lot of face-to-face interaction with clinical experts, providing data, answering questions, and spreading knowledge about a product or scientific area out in the field. You’ll probably give presentations, attend conferences, and work closely with the medical affairs and medical education divisions within the company.

MSL teams are made up of professionals with various advanced degrees, including MD, PhD, PharmD, NP, and PA. While a residency is preferred for some physician MSLs, others will consider doctors with various types of backgrounds and experience instead of a residency.

4Medical Informaticist

Medical informatics encompasses all the parts of information science within healthcare.

A medical informatics job for a physician may involve liaising between a clinical department or facility and an information technology department. Or you can be employed by an EMR or other type of software company that sells its product to healthcare organizations. You might design, configure, and improve an EMR system, streamline clinical workflows, and spearhead projects involving Meaningful Use, MACRA, or other CMS initiatives.

While some informatics roles may require a residency (such as Chief Medical Information Officer), there are plenty of related jobs that are fitting for physicians without a residency if you have some experience and an interest in health IT, healthcare and medical terminology, clinical decision support, and analytics.

5Medical Monitor

Physicians are needed within pharmaceutical companies and contract research organizations to oversee clinical trials. As a medical monitor, you’ll be accountable for various aspects of the drug testing process, such as trial design, execution, monitoring, and reporting.

A strong medical and clinical background is useful in reviewing potential adverse effects and interpreting data, though board certification isn’t typically required. Without having a residency, it would be tough to find a job that allows you to treat patients who are participating in a clinical study. Serving as a medical monitor, though, allows you to be closely involved in the patient safety aspects of clinical studies and use your medical knowledge to ensure good outcomes for both the patient participants and for the sponsoring pharmaceutical company.

6Professor

Without a residency, “Professor of Medicine” at a medical school may not be attainable. But there are many professor and other teaching jobs that allow you to use your medical and science knowledge but that don’t require an active license or a board certification. Look for teaching and professorship opportunities in public health, nursing, physician assistant, and undergrad science programs.

A lot of teaching positions include an option or requirement for research as well. So, if you enjoy research, this is a great avenue to explore.

Your degree can help you land your job as well as work your way up within an institution. Once you’re in, the lack of a board certification is unlikely to hold you back.

7Medical Epidemiologist

A medical degree is a fitting background for many epidemiology-focused positions within local and state departments of health, as well as federal agencies such as the CDC. As an epidemiologist, you might assess aspects of community health, develop and implement health programs, or direct public health surveillance activities.

Public health experience or an MPH is helpful for medical epidemiologist positions, though an MD is also relevant, beneficial, and even required for certain health department roles.

8Medical Writer

Medical writing is an attractive nonclinical career for many physicians – even those with board-certification – due to its flexibility and being low-stress and low-risk.

Medical writers with a MD are often drawn toward medical communications jobs with (or for) pharmaceutical companies, since this work tends to utilize one’s medical knowledge to a large degree. Other types of writing, such as medical journalism or patient education, are options to consider if you like to get creative or enjoy the patient advocacy aspects of healthcare.

2 Comments

  1. Xrayvsn

    This is a wonderful post to put out there.

    I know of several colleagues who graduated medical school but for some reason or other couldn’t take and pass the USMLE boards or enter a residency.

    It is an unfortunate situation for these individuals as they still have accumulated a high debt from student loans but are typically denied a high paying salary that would allow them to pay it. So they are stuck in financial purgatory.

    Some go into additional debt and try to pivot into another medically related field such as a PA or nurse. Others give up their dream of medicine altogether and are forced to go into an unrelated job (and unfortunately always have in the back of their mind, “what if”)

    • L4Z

      Yeah, there are some unfortunate situations out there. I’ve also seen some medical school grads continue to chase after their dream specialty for too long (in my opinion). For example, doing a full internal medicine residency, when they keep applying for anesthesia every year. It’s one thing to pursue a dream, but another thing to sit on hefty student loans and continue to delay a reasonable salary in favor of more training or low paying “experiences” that may not get you to where you want.

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