Doctors leaving medicine: Why you should give up clinical medicine

Jul 15, 2019

The most recent post in our Make it Black & White series covered the reasons why physicians should continue to practice clinically in some manner – even after transitioning to a non-clinical career. But there are just as many reasons that it can make sense for doctors leaving medicine to give up their clinical work entirely.

Reasons for doctors leaving medicine to go “all in” with non-clinical work

You can justify leaving medicine with any of the points below. Doctors with several issues that apply to them should seriously consider devoting all their professional time to non-clinical work.

However, if any of these reasons are true for you, it certainly doesn’t mean that you must give up clinical medicine! All of these are hurdles that can be overcome if you have the determination.

You don’t enjoy it

Here at Look for Zebras, we’re all about career fulfillment. If you truly dislike clinical work, don’t force yourself to do it.

Obliging yourself to practice clinically when it’s not enjoyable could potentially:

  • Lead to burnout
  • Negatively affect your personal life and relationships
  • Decrease productivity in your nonclinical role

Be honest with yourself about the benefits you get from clinical work. If they are minimal or none, leaving clinical medicine may be a good call.

You have substantial experience or are nearing retirement

The more clinical experience you have, the less it matters that you continue to accrue more clinical experience. This is especially true for physicians in leadership positions who have gradually accumulated administrative responsibility over the years. The progression of your career in this type of case can often speak for itself.

Similarly, doctors nearing retirement may not benefit from continuing clinical work after taking a nonclinical position. A late-career physician has ample experience to draw from in order to solve problems, communicate with colleagues, and provide expertise.

If it’s unlikely that you’ll be job searching in the future, having recent clinical experience can be relatively unimportant.

You don’t plan to ever return to clinical medicine

It can make sense for early- and mid-career physicians to fully transition to nonclinical work, as well. This is true mainly for those who are confident that they’ll never return to clinical medicine. To be confident about this, you should typically already have experience in a nonclinical role and know that you enjoy it.

You should also be reasonably confident about the outlook for your nonclinical field or the job security for your type of position. It is important as well to be confident in your ability to transition to another type of nonclinical job.

Stability and flexibility are key here, as it’s difficult to know what the future will bring.

It’s logistically too challenging

Clinical work can be a logistical challenge for many reasons. These can be both professional and personal. Professionally, the hours or schedule required for clinical work in your specialty may not jive with your nonclinical job. On-call requirements can be demanding. Some types of specialists tend to work long shifts.

Certain nonclinical jobs can have erratic hours, frequent travel, or other obligations. These can make it difficult to commit to any type of clinical work shift. For example, management consulting is known for its long hours and busy travel schedule.

On a personal level, perhaps you have kids or an elderly parent to care for. Or you find it difficult to prioritize quality time with your spouse while simultaneously fitting in clinical work. It’s not worth keeping up your clinical skills if it means sacrificing relationships.

You physically cannot perform clinical work

Disabilities happen, unfortunately. But this doesn’t need to be a career-ender for most physicians. Going all-in with nonclinical work might be the best way to go for those with physical limitations.

Your professional history creates a barrier

Malpractice lawsuits, medical board disciplinary action, loss of privileges, and professional investigations can brutally interfere with one’s ability to land clinical work. Even if clinical work remains a possibility, the increased scrutiny, elevated insurance premiums, and other hassles can be a turn-off to continuing work as a clinician.

If a physical disability interferes with your medical practice, don’t consider this a failure. Rather, it’s an opportunity to fully transition to nonclinical work.

Because what you do with your medical degree is your choice

I’ve witnessed physicians unhappily remaining in clinical practice because they feel obligated to do so. By becoming physicians, we didn’t promise that we’d treat patients for a certain number of years or dedicate a minimum number of hours to the hospital wards. We paid for our training and can do with it what we want.

Having a purely nonclinical job may raise an eyebrow here and there, but that’s okay. You get to choose your own career path.

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