Nonclinical physician employment trends… and how you can benefit from them

Jan 22, 2019

As the decade rolls to a close this year, I thought I’d share some info about current physician employment trends for nonclinical jobs and predictions for where they’re headed. I’ve included some recommendations for how you can use these forecasts to your advantage in your career.

The number of job opportunities will increase

A lot of medical careers are in demand, and nonclinical physician work is one of them.

Industries in which physicians are hired for nonclinical roles are growing. This includes health IT and digital health, pharmaceuticals, and managed care, as shown in the graphs below.

Sources: ABNewswire; EvaluatePharma; McKinsey

New digital health solutions are being driven by an increasing cost burden to patients, an aging population with chronic disease, and widespread acceptance of new technologies.

Innovative companies in the healthcare payor space are emerging. Even companies that aren’t typically players in the medical industry are involved, such as Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan’s venture that made a buzz last year.

To make these endeavors a success, physician input and leadership is needed.

Use this to your advantage – If you’ve been considering changing industries or transitioning to nonclinical work, go for it. There are a lot of opportunities, and more to come.

…but some jobs will become more competitive

You’ve probably read approximately 37 articles about physician burnout over the past few months. Physicians are experiencing burnout at an alarming rate. This is one reason why many are seeking career shifts to nonclinical positions. Some docs are not yet burned out, but they see what the future holds and are looking into nonclinical options to avoid it.

Others enjoy clinical medicine, but have grown frustrated with regulations or other factors that make nonclinical careers appealing.

A 2016 survey by The Physicians Foundation revealed that 13.5% of physicians plan to seek a nonclinical job within the next one to three years.

So, nonclinical jobs will be competitive. Non-medical skill sets will become increasingly important. These include leadership skills, management experience, understanding of statistics, business acumen, and industry-specific knowledge.

Use this to your advantage – Be intentional about your transition to a nonclinical career. Be able to verbalize what you’re looking for and why you’re a good fit for it. Sell yourself and your skills.

Salaries won’t keep pace with physician employment trends in clinical jobs

I wanted to report a trend of nonclinical salaries matching or exceeding clinical salaries. Unfortunately, my research led me to predict otherwise.

Medscape’s Physician Compensation Report from last year indicates an increase in average salary from around $200,000 to just about $300,000 between 2011 to 2018. This is significantly more growth than Payscale’s reported pay trends for other industries.

If you leave clinical medicine for healthcare administration, your compensation may not be affected. However, if you move to another industry such as insurance or pharma – even in a leadership position – your earning potential may be lower than if you continue to practice clinically.

Use this to your advantage – Consider benefits of a nonclinical job aside from salary, such as better schedule, doing work that truly makes you happy, regular hours, less risk of malpractice lawsuits, or free time to start a side hustle.

Job titles will continue to lose meaning

Goldman Sachs apparently has almost 12,000 vice presidents. It is now ordinary to be a “ninja” in the workplace. Many organizations now have a Chief Happiness Officer.

Because physicians commonly take positions of leadership when moving into the nonclinical realm, they are more likely to be affected by job title inflation.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. How a company organizes its employees is based on its particular vision and needs. It is, however, something that should be kept in mind when leaving a setting in which simple titles like “staff physician” are the norm.

Use this to your advantage – When looking for a nonclinical job, don’t bypass an opportunity based on the job title. Don’t think you can be a medical director? If you have an MD and did a residency, you can. No further experience is necessary required. Not sure you’re ready to be a VP? Given the job description a thorough read just in case.

An active license and recent clinical experience will become more important

Some nonclinical jobs require having an active license and malpractice insurance. These include hospital administration, utilization management, and telemedicine company leadership. Physicians in these positions sometimes get involved in specific patient cases (even if they’re not directing care). Therefore, whether they are “practicing medicine” is arguable and the risk for lawsuit is a real one.

Malpractice settlements are on the rise, so the ability to maintain or obtain a state license will be increasingly important for certain nonclinical jobs.

In many nonclinical roles that don’t need an active license, recent or ongoing clinical experience may be required. Clinical experience in a care-directive capacity is one of the few things that really sets an MD apart from other professionals. It can legitimize a physician in a leadership role overseeing other physicians, can look good to a company’s potential clients, and can help ensure your knowledge in the field is up to date.

Use this to your advantage – If you can stomach it, consider doing part-time or occasional locums work seeing patients even after you transition to nonclinical work. For those who haven’t yet completed a residency, think deeply about completing a residency. This will open up nonclinical doors for you down the road.

What else do you predict? And how can you capitalize on the trend?

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Wilner, MD

    Great article!

    As a physician who has combined clinical and nonclinical work (medical writing) for almost 40 years, I’d like to draw attention to one of your final points:

    “Clinical experience in a care-directive capacity is one of the few things that really sets an MD apart from other professionals.”

    Physicians should not underestimate the value of their clinical work, and it truly does separate them from the rest of society (i.e., other job applicants). For example, when I host radio interviews on ReachMD, the fact that I am a “peer” with the physician on the other end of the phone and can relate to the clinical experience we are discussing is invaluable. It allows me to ask better questions and lead a more interesting interview. Does this mean that I couldn’t do the same job without a clinical background and excel? Of course not, but having clinical experience can truly enhance one’s performance at many “nonclinical” jobs.

    I would also like to address the last point, about trying to “keep your foot in the door” by working locums occasionally. For anyone who has not 100% decided to leave clinical medicine, I recommend locums work to keep your ability to practice medicine alive. More than two years out of clinical work, and it is almost impossible (if not impossible) to get back in. Locums jobs are available in every specialty, pay well, and are an easy solution to remain active clinically.

    • L4Z

      Excellent points. Clinical experience is valuable even for hosting a radio interview!

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