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How physician job seekers can counteract not having a residency

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Many great jobs for doctors without residency exist, though the best ones that are relevant to medicine and well-compensated can be a challenge to find and tough to land. Lack of board certification or board eligibility severely constrains a doctor’s job search. Unfortunately, it can mean you’re not a candidate for some jobs and it will limit your competitiveness for others.

But there are a number of things you can do to make yourself a stronger candidate for many of these careers.

To a degree, you can counteract not having completed a residency. Here’s how.

Revisit your career goals

This is important for any physician starting out a career in the US without board eligibility. You might have a vision of roaming the halls of a hospital. Or you’re still stuck on a goal from years ago to pursue a certain specialty.

Now is the time to revisit your career goals.

You need to have an open mind about how you’re going to utilize your medicine training. Your new goals might look a lot different than what you’re used to.

Being realistic about your career will help you immensely in the long run. Finding a job faster, feeling more fulfilled, and advancing your career are all positive consequences of having sensible, thoughtful career goals.

Once you’ve done this, you can better determine how to implement some of the techniques below.

Complete a non-ACGME internship or fellowship

Internships and fellowships exist in many fields related to healthcare as well as in industries that touch the medical field in some way. They’re available for every level of education, in varying lengths, and in many geographies.

Medical internships and fellowships

For doctors ineligible for or having difficulty landing an ACGME internship or residency, there are non-ACGME internships and fellowships that can prepare you for a good career and sometimes lead directly to a job offer within the host organization. They come with different foci and funding sources, and therefore they can differ significantly in their eligibility criteria.

Examples include Tufts’ Clinical Decision Making Fellowship and the NIH Clinical Trial Methodology and Regulatory Science fellowship.

Industry internships and fellowship programs

There are also internships and fellowships within various industries of interest to physicians, such as pharmaceutical research and development, management consulting, managed care, and public health.

The large consulting firm McKinsey offers a few different programs for physicians and medical trainees to get their feet wet in consulting. A number of pharma companies offer leadership development programs for physicians.

Pursue another degree

Several degrees are symbiotic with a medical degree. They can put your background as a doctor into a new perspective. This can allow you to use your medical training and experience to add value within a different field or in an area of medicine without treating patients.

A few to consider are:

  • MPH
  • MBA
  • MMM
  • Doctorate such as a PhD or JD

Some masters programs can be completed in under a year. Many can be done part-time or online.

A doctorate is, of course, a big undertaking. But some – such as many PhD programs – are sometimes fully funded and even offer a stipend while you’re completing them.

Many degree programs will add to your knowledge base and provide valuable additions to your professional network.

Obtain an applicable certification

Certifications are available in a wide range of fields. They tend to not carry as much weight as a degree or actual work experience; however, a certification can accomplish a few things:

  • Validates your abilities and skills within a field
  • Demonstrates your interest in a subject area
  • Shows that you’ve taken initiative in your professional advancement
  • Makes you more impressive as a candidate

A few examples of certifications that may be valuable in pursuing jobs for doctors without residency include Six Sigma certification, Health Care Quality & Management (HCQM) certification, and certificates in medical informatics such as those offered by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

Bear in mind, though, that not every so-called certification program is legitimate. Do your research and talk to others who hold the certification before you shell out any money.

Be creative in gaining relevant experience

Having experience doing the same or similar job to the one you’re applying for is one of the best ways to be a strong candidate. For those without directly pertinent experience who are trying to break into a field, this leads to a frustrating question:

How can you get experience if all the jobs require experience?

Relevant experience doesn’t need to be doing exactly the same work that you’d be doing in the job you’re applying for. If you’re interested in a certain specialty of medicine but haven’t been able to actually practice in it, consider doing research in the field or teaching academic courses on related topics.

Get professionally involved in a field

You can get professionally involved in an industry or medical field without actively working in it as a physician. Here are a few ways:

  • Join a professional association or society
  • Attend a national or regional conference
  • Do some pro bono work

At the very least, join email lists that will expose you to news, updates, and the events in the field.

These activities will help you to immerse yourself in an industry’s culture. You’ll learn about trends in the field and hear the names of experts and leaders. You can also read about new companies entering the space that could be your next employer. In addition, you’ll get up to speed on technologies that may end up being the focus of your next job.

Write a great resume and targeted cover letters

When applying to a posted position, submit a resume that is written with that specific job in mind. Write a cover letter that highlights components of your professional history that are applicable to the job but which may not be clear from your resume.

There is no match for the combination of a quality resume plus a well-written cover letter.

Many applicants don’t include a cover letter at all. Simply having a cover letter sets you above the pack. Having a thoughtful cover letter that actually describes why you’re a good fit for the job sets you apart even more.

View your experience and skills broadly

A recruiter or hiring manager may not immediately see how your past experience is relevant to the job. You need to highlight and explain how your skills make you qualified. Spend time thinking about how your past work will help you accomplish the work you’re pursuing.

When networking, don’t tell your connections that you have no relevant experience or aren’t qualified. Rather, explain to them why you’d excel at the work. Have a compelling story.

Once you’re invited for an interview, you have ample opportunity to “sell” your candidacy in this way. Every communication and interview is an opportunity for you to link your experience with the role you’re applying for.


If you’re able to do a residency, definitely do one. It will not only increase the number of opportunities available to you and the scope of work that you’re eligible for, but it will also make you a more competitive candidate for many jobs.

That said, residency and board certification aren’t feasible for everyone. Rest assured that there are many jobs for doctors without residency out there. And you have the tools to help yourself land a great one.

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