By Michelle Mudge-Riley, DO
Over a decade ago, I felt completely lost and unsure about my career path as a doctor. Although I got into med school on the first try and had succeeded in medical school - I actually LOVED medical school - along the way I had realized that traditional patient care wasn’t the right career path for me. I didn’t know what I was going to do or even what I wanted to do.
I guess I should have seen some of the clues, but I didn’t. In medical school, SPAL (standardized performance assessment lab), where we simulate an H&P and go through the motions to practice a doctor-patient interaction, was my least favorite class. I didn’t know why at the time and I didn’t really think about it until rotations my third and fourth year, when I didn’t get excited enough about any direct patient care specialties to think about doing them for the next 40 years. While academically, things were great, I was horrified to realize I didn’t enjoy direct patient care. That scared me. It caused my classmates to question me. What was wrong with me?
Turns out, there was nothing wrong with me, but it took me many years (and two more unnecessary degrees!) to realize it. Along the way I started writing about my struggle and when physicians of all specialities, out of residency and practicing for 3, 5, 10 even 20 years started reaching out to me to tell me THEY never liked patient care or were ready to do less of it, I realized I wasn’t a huge failure or a jerk.
What helped me the most? Meeting and interacting with other physicians who had also decided to work in a nonclinical or nontraditional job. I realized I had options - lots of them!
What are your options for a nonclinical career?
You may have been considering a nonclinical career for years! In my experience coaching other doctors who want to transition to a nonclinical career, I’ve seen burnout can motivate a doctor to want to transition to another career. Boredom in a chosen specialty is another reason doctors may start looking at their options. For a certain subset of doctors, medicine may have been the wrong choice from the start.
Through my journey and through helping other doctors, I learned that there are lots of nonclinical options for doctors. My first nonclinical job was working for a medical device company as a clinical liaison. I wanted to get into something that emphasized wellness and prevention and by luck, I stumbled on a job as director of wellness and medical management for a brokerage firm. That led to other consulting opportunities. Once I got into that first nonclinical job, my world started to open up as I learned about things I didn’t see or learn about in medical school. I also started to recognize opportunities to work in jobs where I could use my medical degree (and get paid as a doctor) within the business world. Pharmaceutical, public health and insurance companies are obvious places for most physicians who want a nonclinical job but there are also opportunities in finance, banking, writing, consulting, teaching, leadership, IT, marketing, public relations, entrepreneurship, nonprofit, government, international relations, nutrition, real estate, comedy, speaking...and more! Many of these are options for physicians who are not licensed or board certified.
A nonclinical community
Connecting with other physicians pursuing nonclinical paths really helped me map out what I wanted, identify opportunities, and understand that I wasn’t alone. Eager to help other physicians enjoy that same camaraderie, in 2008 I founded Physicians Helping Physicians, a community of like-minded physicians who coach and advise each other about nonclinical and nontraditional career opportunities.
Every year we bring our community together for a conference to support each other. The conference is called Physicians Helping Physicians because that’s our mission.
Some of the doctors in our community realized traditional patient care wasn’t for them early in their careers. Others came to the conclusion after practicing for five, 10 or even 20 years. Some suffered a health issue or needed more time at home with small children or aging parents. Others had a hard time getting out of bed each day because they didn’t look forward to their work anymore. Many of these doctors were clinically depressed. Some were suicidal. These doctors found hope in a nonclinical or nontraditional career.
If you’re considering a nonclinical career, I recommend that you start by taking the following three steps:
Create a resume. CVs are traditionally the norm in the scientific and medical fields, but resumes are becoming more common because they quickly describe a person’s experience and skills. Knowing how to translate a CV to a resume can help you communicate your value to employers. I didn’t receive training on creating a CV or resume in medical school, and my first resume was a mess of a document. If you want to create a resume, make sure you list your professional experience first, use bulletpoints to highlight how you bring value in your job (your results) and keep your resume to 1-2 pages. Be careful if you are considering hiring a professional resume writer. I’ve seen nice looking resumes that don’t help physicians because a non-physician resume writer may not understand how to effectively translate your clinical skills and experience into the right business terms or industry specific language. That will hurt your chances of getting into your ideal nonclinical job.
Put together your one- to three-year personal development plan and an elevator pitch. To find the right job, knowing where you want to be a few years down the road is essential. Do you want to live and work at the beach? Why? Are you more interested in working internationally? How much money do you need? What’s your work-life balance goal?
These are all important questions to know the answers to when you get to the point of evaluating job opportunities. Asking yourself questions like these will also help you create your 30-second elevator pitch to provide context about your skills and value to those you meet and interview with for jobs.
Learn how to find jobs and effectively network. Knowing what your options are can help you narrow your focus and make your search more effective. You can learn more about options by reading books like Careers Beyond Clinical Medicine by Heidi Moawad or listening to Physicians In Transition podcasts. Finding specific jobs and getting interviews often involves the help of others. Networking is key to finding those people who can and are willing to help you. Networking through Linked In and scheduling phone calls with people works well.
It takes purposeful action steps to figure out what you want to do and then do it. These steps will help you get started. The good news is that physicians who have transitioned to nonclinical careers are likely to remember their own transitions and be willing to help you. You have so much to offer so don’t lose confidence in yourself. You are still a doctor and you always will be.
Every year, we bring our community of physicians in nonclinical careers together in a conference to help other doctors who are interested in learning more about or getting into a nonclinical or nonclinical career. The conference is called “What’s NEXT”, where NEXT stands for Nonclinical EXit Transition. Physicians who have successfully transitioned will share pros and cons of their new job and industry, answer questions about salary and lifestyle and help attendees with resources. If you are interested in learning more about a nonclinical career, please check out our conference. In 2021, the conference will be virtual and it’s CME approved. You can see the schedule and learn more here.
Career Advice From the Experts and Leaders in Healthcare Careers