The intersection of nonclinical jobs in healthcare

May 21, 2018

Over the past 20 weeks, I’ve posted a nonclinical profile every Monday. This series has now come to a close. I really hope the info provided was informative and valuable to our readers looking into nonclinical jobs in healthcare.

If you missed these posts, check out the intro to the series, which contains a link to each of the profiles.

Not an all-encompassing list

I included profiles for a number of jobs in the pharmaceutical, managed care, healthcare delivery, and governmental sectors. I also included writing and consulting career opportunities. I explored possibilities in the niches of biotech startups, informatics, and public speak and coaching. I covered quite a range.

But it’s important to note that these are not an exhaustive list of nonclinical possibilities for doctors. There are many similar roles in other types of organizations, and very different roles in some of the same fields that we haven’t included. If you’re just beginning to explore your nonclinical options as a medical professional, don’t limit yourself.

It’s a challenge to group all of the nonclinical career possibilities into discrete categories. In reality, there’s quite a bit of overlap between many of the job types, industry areas, and work responsibilities.

So, if you’re just delving into how your career could evolve to a non-clinical one, how do you get started? Here are three pieces of advice to assist you in further exploration, and keep you from feeling lost in a sea of nonclinical possibilities.

1. Taking a nonclinical job is not a one-time, all-or-none decision

I often come across physicians talking about “leaving medicine” or “making the switch” to a nonclinical job. Many of them express concerns about ensuring they are “ready for the change.” Others feel confident about the change but are paralyzed by trying to figure out what type of job they should pursue.

The great news is that taking a nonclinical position doesn’t need to be a single leap. And, once you’ve started a job, you’re not tied to that specific industry or area.

This is thanks to a huge amount of overlap between many of the branches of nonclinical medicine that I mentioned above.

It is perfectly fine to let your career continue to transition within nonclinical medicine after you’ve left a traditional clinical job. If you choose to test the waters with part-time or consulting work in a nonclinical field, you can take on work in more than one area at a time. For instance, freelance medical writing along with chart reviews for a utilization management company. Or try one type of work for a bit and then move on to another.

The leading contention I hear for this piece of advice is that, by not committing oneself to a specific field, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Specifically, some folks argue that it will be more difficult to gain enough experience to move up the ladder or to leadership positions. Also, that potential employers won’t take you seriously because you haven’t focused your professional efforts within their domain.

I disagree with these arguments for two main reasons.

First, many companies value an employee’s experience in a different, but related, field. It stimulates innovation and gives a fresh perspective to the way things are done. Second, leadership skills are cross-discipline skills. It takes much longer and a lot more effort to learn to be a good leader than it does to learn the details and nuances of a healthcare-related industry such as health insurance or medical devices.

Transitioning to nonclinical medicine slowly or only part-way is fine. Changing fields or positions won’t hold you back in your career. Don’t let these concerns prevent you from taking steps to a more fulfilling professional life.

2. Surround yourself with other physicians who support and inspire you

It can feel isolating to be a physician in a clinical setting who’s looking into a nonclinical job. This is especially true if your colleagues are passionate about the clinical work they’re doing. Looking into alternatives can feel overwhelming and might even make you feel like you’re betraying your profession.

Find a mentor

The way to avoid this is to have a mentor (or several mentors) to support you in your journey. Establish relationships with physicians in roles that you aspire to have. Keep in touch with former teachers and co-workers who took a similar path to a nonclinical job. These connections will give you guidance and help you feel confident in the decisions you make.

Join an association

There are also a bunch of professional societies and associations that are excellent resources for physicians interested in various nonclinical careers. If there’s a certain field that you’re leaning toward, figure out what organization attracts the professionals with similar backgrounds and interests to your own. For example, a doctor aspiring to become a medical science liaison within a pharmaceutical company many want to join the Medical Science Liaison Society. Someone wanting to work as a medical writer should look into the American Medical Writers Association.

Membership costs for these associations often aren’t much, but they offer a lot to someone who’s transitioning their career. This typically includes mentorship programs, career resources, educational material and sessions, and networking opportunities.

By developing and growing your connections, you can guarantee that you’ll always have someone to answer your questions, provide advice, or introduce you to someone else who can help.

3. Figure out how your skills and experience tie in to the job you’re pursuing

When looking for your first nonclinical job, you may have a tendency to feel like you don’t have the right skills. Perhaps you’ve caught yourself thinking:

The only thing I know how to do is take care of patients!

Stop thinking this. It’s simply not true.

Your knowledge and experience – even if all you’ve ever done is clinical medicine – is extremely relevant to the vast majority of nonclinical jobs. The relevance is not always obvious. You need to spend some time contemplating your skill set and your strengths, and tie these in to the type of job you’re looking for.

For example, a hospital physician consider a job as a Medical Affairs Director for a drug company may think a hiring manager would scoff at them for applying to the position. After all, the job requires providing medical expertise to a drug marketing team, developing priorities for a product launch, and facilitating clinical research projects. This is definitely not patient care!

But, aside from making treatment and diagnosis decisions, patient care requires:

  • Prioritization
  • Team building
  • Competent communication
  • Navigating policies and regulations
  • Artfully making your case when you’re met with resistance

These are just a few of the skills you’ve cultivated as a clinician that arise all the time in the majority of nonclinical jobs.

Think about your experience broadly

Whatever the type of nonclinical work you’re vying for, take some time to think about your professional experience broadly. What has your clinical work taught you about healthcare in general? How has caring for patients given you skills to assist companies in developing and implementing medical products? How have your past challenges in working in a clinical setting given you insight into the delivery of health-related services?

Answering this type of question will help you select job opportunities to pursue, nail the interview process, and ultimately be successful in your new role.

Ready to explore some of the opportunities in nonclinical medicine? Take a look at some of the career profiles in managed care, pharma, and medical writing.

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