In pursuing non-clinical physician jobs, we tend to mentally categorize the possibilities by industry. For example, jobs in pharmaceuticals or in health insurance. Some doctors are drawn to a particular industry and it’s a clear transition for them from clinical work. But, for many of us, our skills and interests align with a career in several different industries.
Physicians desiring a nonclinical career who don’t yet have a well-defined idea of what they want to do can benefit from a different approach: considering career options based on the extent to which clinical skills and experience are necessary to excel at the job.
Physician training requires that we become extremely familiar with healthcare delivery and the science of medicine. As you explore non-clinical job options for your own career, use what you already know to guide you in in the first steps of your transition.
Non-clinical physician jobs can be roughly split into 5 categories based on their degree of separation from clinical medicine. Clinical knowledge and proficiency may be:
1 – Crucial and required
2 – Directly advantageous
3 – Indirectly yet significantly pertinent
4 – Unnecessary but generally applicable
5 – Influential, though minimally relevant
The rest of this article goes into a bit of detail for each of these nonclinical job types.
1. Jobs in which clinical proficiency is crucial and required
Careers in this category require active provider-level medical decision-making or advising. These jobs are as close to practicing medicine as you can get without actually spending your days seeing a panel of patients.
Jobs in this category are often with companies that offer clinical services to patients, such as hospitals or healthcare systems. Nonclinical physicians with this type of career can be in positions of leadership in which they guide other clinicians in the processes and policies used for caring for patients. Sometimes, the work may require getting so closely involved with patient care that an active license is required.
Other work of this type is outside of a healthcare delivery setting but relies on a deep understanding of medicine and on extensive experience in treating patients within a field of medicine. Physicians serving as expert witnesses on legal cases fall into this category.
“Crucial and required” non-clinical job examples:
- Healthcare system Chief Medical Officer (CMO)
- Health services company Corporate Medical Director
- Expert witness
2. Jobs in which clinical proficiency is directly advantageous
Many nonclinical jobs rely on a physician’s clinical skills and experience for carrying out responsibilities, but those responsibilities don’t directly impact the care that a patient receives.
As with type #1 non-clinical careers, these jobs are often with companies that are involved in delivering healthcare. The work, though, is an additional step removed from actual patient care. A physician in a hospital setting with one of these jobs may be involved in clinical informatics, quality improvement, or medical affairs.
Other careers of this type are with companies that support medical organizations through their services.
Utilization review, for instance, requires that the physician make determinations about the medical necessity of clinical services based on policies, guidelines, and clinical evidence. However, the reviewer is not directing the actual treatment of patients; rather, he or she is making a decision about whether the services will be covered by insurance.
“Directly advantageous” non-clinical job examples:
- Clinical documentation improvement specialist or advisor
- Managed care medical director
- Utilization management reviewer
- Chief medical information officer or other clinical informaticist
3. Jobs in which clinical proficiency is indirectly yet significantly pertinent
Physicians in these non-clinical roles benefit heavily from clinical knowledge and experience. They are often working to develop or implement a product or solution that will ultimately be used by or benefit a hospital or medical practice.
This could be a drug or health tech device, for example. It’s immensely helpful to have first-hand experience in the end user’s shoes for decisions related to the product design, as well as strategy for marketing it, implementing it into practice, and measuring its impact.
Any considerations about patient care in this type of non-clinical job tend to be on a population or market level. Physicians might consider the unmet disease management needs of an entire patient demographic or the educational needs of an entire specialty group of physicians who will prescribe a new drug.
“Indirectly yet significantly pertinent” non-clinical job examples:
- Pharmaceutical medical director
- Health tech startup CMO
- Health policy analyst
4. Jobs in which clinical proficiency is unnecessary but generally applicable
Many non-clinical careers allow physicians to make use of provider-level clinical knowledge and experience without directly depending on it.
Physicians working in management consulting are often assigned to projects with healthcare systems or medical product companies as the client. The goal of the project may be to make a recommendation about a merger or other high-level business decision. However, considerations made to develop that recommendation require understanding clinically-related factors such as how a service affects the health of patients. This is one of the reasons that consulting firms hire physicians.
Medical writing is another example of this career type. Though good medical writers may have only a bachelor’s degree, they don’t have the deep-seated medical knowledge or field experience of a medical writer with an MD. This gives physicians a boost in landing more senior medical writing positions as well as higher salaries.
Although work of this type is only tangentially related to the practice of medicine, physicians will feel that they’re actively making use of their extensive training – at least for some job tasks.
“Unnecessary but generally applicable” non-clinical job examples:
- Medical writer
- Management consultant
- Financial research analyst
5. Jobs in which clinical proficiency influential, though minimally relevant
This final genre encompasses jobs that are unrelated to medicine or healthcare. But notice that the title is not “clinical proficiency is useless.” Physicians’ clinical backgrounds can considerably influence their work in a non-clinical job of this type.
Sometimes burned out docs talk about quitting medicine entirely. They want nothing to do with it anymore. But this doesn’t mean that their clinical experience disappears. It will always be influential.
Physicians who invest in real estate full-time might consider factors such as the health of a population in a geographic area or a property’s vicinity to adequate medical care. Or they might employ their medical knowledge to invest in medical office buildings.
A physician who opens a bakery has a leg up over a pastry chef in considering how health needs and diet trends can make their way into the business model.
Even if you join a symphony orchestra for your encore career (see what I did there?), your clinical work history will shape what you do.
“Influential, though irrelevant” non-clinical job examples:
- Real estate investor
- Personal trainer
- Bakery owner
Choosing which types of non-clinical physician jobs are best for you
You may know you want to transition to a non-clinical job, but feel overwhelmed by the possibilities. Use the job categories above to help you determine where to start. Give some consideration to what you enjoy and what you dislike about clinical medicine, and to what extent these will resurface in a non-clinical role.
Some non-clinical physician jobs are too broad to categorize
Many jobs don’t fit squarely into one of these five categories. For example, research that is often of interest to physicians who are leaving clinical medicine. But it comes in many varieties, such as:
- Epidemiological research
- Health systems research
- Clinical trials
- Basic science/lab research
- Translational research
- Behavioral research
A clinical trial medical monitor relies heavily on clinical experience, while health systems research is quite far removed from clinical decision-making.
It can be helpful to break down a field by company type or the departments within a company.
Regardless of the extent of your clinical experience and proficiency, there’s a non-clinical career that will suit you well.