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Visiting scholar programs for physicians interested in non-clinical medical careers

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Landing a good non-clinical job can be difficult for physicians who don’t have experience outside of clinical medicine. Even getting your bearings within the non-clinical job landscape to start a job search and apply for positions is tough without having a solid idea of what type of work you’d like to do. Visiting scholar programs can address both of these challenges for certain physicians interesting in transitioning to non-clinical medical careers.

What is a visiting scholar program?

A visiting scholar is traditionally a researcher from an academic institution who spends a period of time (generally a few months to a full year) at a host institution to research and/or teach on a certain topic. The scholar usually keeps his position at the home university and, in many cases, the home university continues to pay the scholar’s salary.

The terms visiting researcher, visiting fellow, visiting professor, and visiting lecturer are also used to describe similar arrangements.

How physicians interested in non-clinical medical careers can benefit from a visiting scholar program

Visiting scholar programs are most common in academia and many are designed specifically for academics. However, there are some unconventional programs that are sponsored by industry, that offer a stipend, or that don’t require the scholar to have an existing academic appointment. These and other unique factors make certain programs a great fit for medical doctors and other practitioners exploring non-clinical medical careers.

Visiting scholar programs can assist in the transition process in several ways, such as:

  • Learning about a career area that you think you may be interested in, but aren’t sure
  • Adding non-clinical experience to your resume
  • Gaining skills and knowledge relevant to your long-term career goals
  • Making connections within a field

You won’t be making much money while you’re a visiting scholar, but the value it provides can be immense. If you’re interested in a non-clinical career – especially if you’re coming from academia – consider a visiting scholar program to help solidify your goals and make the transition.

Visiting scholar programs that can help transition to a non-clinical job

Here are a variety of established visiting scholar programs that may be of interest to physicians and other medical professionals looking to gain experience related to a few different types of non-clinical careers.

Health administration

The American Board of Medical Specialties Visiting Scholars Program is perhaps the most directly relevant to physicians seeking non-clinical medical careers of all the programs listed here. Moreover, as a part-time program specifically designed for physicians, it’s also the most feasible to fit in with your current job as you explore a career pivot.

This program is a one-year commitment focusing on quality improvement, performance improvement, and continuing professional development for physicians. Early career physicians, residents, fellows, and even professionals with other degrees relevant to public health and healthcare administration are eligible to apply.

Visiting scholars can remain at their current institutions while they participate in research and attend educational sessions remotely. The program also includes three in-person sessions, the cost of which is covered by the program.

This is program positions early-career physicians (and others with relevant advanced degrees) as future health care leaders.

Health policy

The American Board of Family Medicine Visiting Scholars Program, like the ABMS program above, is specifically geared toward physicians. Scholars with an interest in primary care research, training, or practice can spend two to four weeks with the Board’s research department in Kentucky or with the Center for Value and Professionalism in Health Care in Washington, DC. 

The Robert Graham Center hosts the one-month Larry A. Green Visiting Scholars Program focused on health policy analysis relevant to primary care and family medicine. It provides scholars with an analytic policy immersion experience that includes a research project on a relevant health policy issue. By taking place in Washington, DC (lodging provided!), it also allows scholars to participate in hearings and briefings on the Hill. 

Health data analysis

Physicians in many types of non-clinical jobs can benefit from an understanding of health data statistics, how to interpret data sets, and how to critically review published studies of data sets. Visiting Scholars at the Center for Large Data Research have the opportunity to answer a research question involving a large survey, or administrative data set.

This program is designed for professionals with an MD or other advanced clinical degree with some amount of research training and experience. The length is flexible and can be up to six months.

Healthcare delivery research

Healthcare delivery research experience is relevant to physicians pursuing careers in healthcare administration or any job that aims to improve how healthcare services are delivered either within an organization or on a larger scale.

The AcademyHealth Healthcare Delivery Research Visiting Scholars Program is a year-long, part-time opportunity to conduct research at the National Cancer Institute Maryland. It offers mid-career scientists a funded opportunity to contribute evidence and address health care challenges by conducting research or pursuing a project in a federal setting. This program is especially suitable for applicants wanting to gain familiarity with the federal research grant funding process.

Chart review

Though many non-clinical jobs with a chart review component (such as utilization management or physician advisor positions) don’t involve conducting research, many of the skills needed for retrospective chart review studies are helpful in effectively doing chart review work for other reasons.

EM Pulse is the hub of the Zucker School of Medicine-Northwell NS/LIJ emergency medicine residency program. The EM Pulse Visiting Scholars Program is an opportunity for medical students and physicians to gain experience in research involving chart review. Ultimately, scholars gain research experience in a clinical setting and become authors for abstracts produced from the projects they participate in.

Medical Ethics and Bioethics

Medical humanities

Ethical issues come up just as often in non-clinical jobs as they do for physicians in clinical practice. Many times, approaching these issues in a non-clinical setting is particularly challenging because there may not be an ethics committee or the type of support that’s typically available in a healthcare delivery organization.

The Hastings Center Visiting Scholar Program accepts scholars in all disciplines and practitioners from health care, law, education, journalism, and other fields to conduct research on bioethics. The center’s issues of focus include end-of-life care, ethical issues in preventive medicine, and genetics and genomics.

The Visiting Scholar Program in NYU Langone’s Division of Medical Ethics, which lasts only one to three months, allows visitors to team up with researchers on an existing study in areas of clinical and research ethics. Research findings are used to advise healthcare centers, patients, patient advocates, the pharmaceutical industry, policymakers, state and federal legislators, and other groups in the medical and health industries on ways to integrate ethics into their policies and practices.

Bioethics is a popular topic for visiting scholar programs. If this is an area of interest to you and you have an academic affiliation, you may want to research other options, such as the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics Visiting Scholars Program or the Georgetown University Center for Clinical Bioethics Visiting Scholars Program.

Medical humanities

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston’s Health Institute for the Medical Humanities Visiting Scholars Program hosts scholars to carry out projects in humanities disciplines that will deepen understanding of – and develop pedagogical approaches to – topics in the medical humanities. Applicants propose their own projects, which can last from two months to nine months. Unlike many of the other programs listed here, this one offers a stipend of $4,000 every month.

Drug development

The Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program Visiting Physician Externship is another program sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. It is specifically for physicians and provides experience in evaluating drugs in clinical trials – an excellent experience for MDs looking to transition to the pharmaceutical industry.

Health technologies

MITRE is a non-profit organization that works in the public interest across federal, state and local governments, as well as industry and academia. They bring innovative ideas into existence in a variety of areas, including artificial intelligence, intuitive data science, and health informatics. The MITRE Visiting Fellows Program selects nationally recognized leaders with expertise in their field of health to help solve complex problems while broadening or deepening their expertise.

The Wyss Institute focuses on biologically-inspired engineering, which is emulating biological principles for technology solutions in healthcare and other fields. Wyss Institute Visiting Scholars can participate in one of these projects and work with truly outstanding faculty during the process.

The University of California Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society’s Visiting Scholars program seeks visitors who will be an active member of the center’s community, including participating in working groups, attending colloquia, and contributing to conferences, workshops, and events. The center’s mission is broad, including advancing the understanding of scientific theories and understanding the intersection of race, genomics, and personalized medicine.


The visiting scholar programs mentioned above are only a sample of the programs that can be valuable to physicians seeking non-clinical medical careers. I hope this gives you a taste of how such a program can help to make a career transition when you have little experience outside of clinical medicine.

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