How doctors can make up for not having a residency

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There are many job options for medical graduates who don’t match into (or choose not to apply for) residency, as well as great jobs for IMGs without residency. However, the best ones can be difficult to land and the job search can be intimidating.

This article describes 10 ways that you can – to some extent – neutralize the fact that you haven’t completed a US post-graduate training program. These can help you land a job that both pays well and makes use of your medical knowledge.

Understand why you’re not completing a residency

For doctors who are left unmatched in the residency match process, it’s imperative to try to understand and be able to tactfully verbalize why you didn’t match. It might be due to one or more of several different factors, including:

  • Low test scores and/or grades
  • Unremarkable or negative letters of recommendation
  • Concerns identified during interviews
  • “Red flags” on any part of your application

Chances are that these same factors will come into play when you’re applying to jobs. By identifying which of these factors was most likely to have left you unmatched, you can begin to figure out how to address it in job applications and during job interviews.

For example, if your written English language skills are lacking, you may want to have your resume and cover letters professionally written or edited.

If your background includes anything that may raise concerns for a recruiter or hiring manager (eg, a gap in your training or completion of multiple clinical internship years), be prepared to discuss these in job interviews. Be able to do so without making excuses, blaming others, complaining, or apologizing. Gain confidence in talking about your shortcomings and setbacks in a way that demonstrates that you’ve grown from them.

Concentrate on the unadvertised job market

Most job openings that are publicly advertised or listed on job boards have a written set of qualifications. As a doctor without a residency or significant experience outside of medicine, you may struggle to find an advertised position for which you qualify. Applicants who don’t quite meet a job’s stated requirements can sometimes make their way through the screening process, though they often get rejected right off the bat.

Thankfully, there are plenty of unadvertised jobs. In fact, it’s estimated that 70 to 85% are not advertised. Many of these aren’t subject to a rigid, unforgiving screening and hiring process. They may allow you to showcase your strong points at the very beginning of your candidacy. For example, by:

  • Having a connection who is a current employee present your name and application to HR
  • Allowing you to speak directly with a recruiter before submitting an application

Concentrating on the informal job market means that you’ll need to dig through your professional network and let people know what you’re looking for. Though these opportunities may be harder to find, there is often less competition.

I’m aware of several situations in which an organization has hired a doctor for nonclinical work without even having a particular position available. They actually developed a position specifically for the candidate that they wanted to hire. One former colleague of mine even got to write his own job description.

Be prepared for changes in the medical and healthcare fields

Changes are constantly taking place in medicine and healthcare. Many of these directly affect the healthcare workforce. For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic led many states to alter their licensing requirements for doctors or adjust telemedicine requirements to address the population’s medical needs.

You never know when there will be a regulatory, policy, or technological change that may impact whether you’re a candidate for a certain type of position – either clinical or nonclinical. Do your best to keep up with the field and keep abreast of its changes.

It is possible that, at some point, there may be a new way for you to practice medicine or use your degree without having done a residency. The right timing and action on your part is key to taking advantage of such a situation.

Look into internships and training grants

Doing a clinical residency is not the only way to build upon the knowledge and skills you learned in medical school to prepare you for the workforce.

Type of programs that can act as a bridge between graduate school and a “real” job include:

  • Training grants
  • Internships
  • Fellowships
  • Rotational programs
  • Leadership development programs

These are sponsored and funded by a breadth of organizations, including the government, non-profits, industry, and universities. Doctors interested in a career in the pharmaceutical industry can consider pharmaceutical company-sponsored programs or one of several government fellowship opportunities that lend themselves to working in pharma.

Many times, an organization’s primary goal in establishing this type of program is to retain the fellows or interns as full-time employees once they complete the program. Another goal is to strengthen the workforce in a particular field. Either way, your career as a doctor will benefit.

Consider acquiring another degree

You may have decided to forgo residency or not go through another round of applying through the match due to the time it takes. Applying to and completing residency takes many years. For many doctors (especially those who have had a setback or already completed a residency in another country), it is just not worth it.

There are a number of relevant degrees that can improve your candidacy for great jobs in the healthcare field in a fraction of the time it takes to complete a residency. These include an MBA and an MPH. Some programs can be done in a year or less or through part-time programs geared toward working professionals.

Though they won’t make you eligible for a medical license or board certification, masters programs can prepare you well for leadership, administrative, and management positions with healthcare companies of many types. You’ll be able to influence patient care and health without directly treating patients.

Earn a certificate

Perhaps completing any type of formal training or degree-granting program is not an option for you. This could be due to time, finances, or lack of interest. In this case, earning a certificate might be a viable alternative that will still prepare you for and help you land a desirable job.

Certificate programs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are highly regarded within certain fields, while others are hardly even recognizable by many industry professionals. It’s important to do your research to determine whether a certificate will help you reach your goals. Ask yourself:

  • Will potential employers recognize the value of this certification?
  • Will the education I receive while earning the certificate make me more proficient at my future job responsibilities?
  • Will the certificate program introduce me to professionals within the field and help me network?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How often will I need to renew my certificate?

Examples of professional certificates that could be valuable when it comes to jobs for IMGs without residency include:

Learn a new skill or body of knowledge

Learning valuable skills and acquiring knowledge that can help you as a doctor in the workforce doesn’t necessarily require a formal training program or certification of any type. Physicians are pros at being independent learners. If there is a particular job type or industry that you’re vying for, consider delving into the field on your own through reading, taking an online course, or learning a new computer program or technology.

Skills likely to be beneficial in many nonclinical jobs that are suitable for doctors without residency are:

  • Understanding statistical analyses
  • Reading a financial statement
  • Performing a literature review
  • Being able to quickly adapt to new technologies

I’ve heard impressive success stories of professionals working their way up in their fields (accompanied by sizeable pay increases) by taking it upon themselves to learn a new skill or gain a deeper understanding of a topic relevant to their work.

Gain leadership experience of any type

Gaining leadership experience doesn’t require you to have a full-time job as a director, department head, or VP. Leadership experience can be obtained by:

  • Chairing a committee
  • Leading a task force
  • Joining the board of a not-for-profit organization
  • Overseeing a team of volunteers
  • Reviewing or editing documents such as policies or educational guides

…and many other ways, including simply taking some initiative in any group situation in which you help to lead a team in accomplishing a goal.

Most instances of being proactive in a professional setting turn into leadership experiences.

These experiences can shine on your resume. They can be topics of discussion during a job interview. And they can help you thrive in a new role.

Obtain some industry experience

Similar to accumulating leadership experience, gaining industry experience doesn’t necessarily mean you need to hold a full-time job in a particular industry. This is key, since so many options for doctors who haven’t completed a residency are in industry, and many relevant job ads will state that they require a certain number of years of industry experience.

Often times, participation in any activities that are similar to the responsibilities you might have in an industry job can work in your favor.

Here are a few examples:

A doctor who has participated in clinical research within academia has likely learned a lot of the terminology and processes used by a researcher with a pharma company.

Publishing a manuscript in a journal or an op-ed piece in an online publication requires certain skills that are similar to those used by a medical writer for a medical communications company.

Participating in a quality improvement project during medical school may have taught you certain concepts that would be used as a management consultant for healthcare clients.

Be prepared to explain how your varied experiences are relevant experience for an industry job, as it may not be immediately clear to a recruiter or interviewer.

Recall why you went into medicine

I’ve seen many cases of foreign medical graduates who have come to the US and worked incredibly hard to try to become a licensed physician here, but have been unable to match to a residency. They subsequently consider becoming a nurse practitioner or taking another route to clinical work that doesn’t require a medical degree.

This is a fine approach if clinical work is truly what will make you happy. However, in many of these situations, I believe the doctor is simply unaware of how his or her medical background can be used outside of a traditional clinical capacity. Nonclinical jobs can help people live healthier lives, reduce the disease burden of entire populations, and shape the way that healthcare is delivered.

Think back to why you decided to go into medicine, and consider how your goals and interests can be accomplished without completing a medical residency.

Whatever your reasons for not doing a residency, there are ways to make up for it

You definitely don’t need to follow through with all – or even most – of the ideas described above. Consider which are fitting to your personal situation, and choose one or two to focus on.

Doctors without residency training enter the job market from a wide variety of situations. For example:

  • A US medical graduate or foreign medical graduate who doesn’t match
  • An IMG who has already completed training in another country and doesn’t want to go through it again
  • Any doctor who chooses not to pursue a residency for personal reasons, such as an illness or a change of heart about practicing medicine.

Depending on your circumstances, some of the ideas above will be more fitting ways to make up for not having completed a residency than others. Take a good, hard look and your position and your career goals to determine how to best prepare for and approach your job search.

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