Tired of Medicine? 20 Nonclinical Career Options

Leigh Page


March 14, 2018

In This Article

Who Switches Careers, and Why?

Doctors have different reasons for leaving clinical care, depending on the stage of their career, their gender, and their specialty.

Dr Kim said that physicians tend to leave clinical medicine at distinct stages in their careers. In the first wave, a small group of young doctors leaves clinical medicine right after medical school or residency, or just when they start practicing.

Most doctors who leave clinical medicine, however, do so in mid-career, when they're in their late 30s or 40s. "These physicians have been in practice for a number of years and are getting burned out," Dr Kim says. "They tend to be very disenchanted about the changes in healthcare. They want to find greener grass." These doctors tend to go into pharma, health insurance, managed care, or health resource utilization, he says.

The transition for this group of doctors into a new career can be very difficult. "They've spent much of their career practicing medicine and haven't been developing other skill sets," he says. "It's hard for these doctors to convince a prospective employer that they have something to offer besides being clinicians."

A third group of doctors switches jobs at or near retirement. In this case, "someone aged 50 or 55 years decides to take on a completely different career," Dr Kim says. In this switch, often called "an encore career," physicians tend to choose a vocation they are interested in, such as painting or working outdoors. "This isn't the predominant trend, but it became bigger in the recession," he says.

Career-changing also differs by gender. When their children are young, female physicians often stop practicing or cut back on hours. Almost one half (44%) of female physicians were working part-time in 2011, twice the level of male physicians, according to a study by the American Medical Group Association.[15] When their children are older, women have a chance to rethink their careers and may opt for a new career outside of clinical medicine.

No one has pinpointed which specialties change careers the most, but we do know which specialties report the most burnout, which is a factor in career changes. A 2017 Medscape survey[16] found that the highest incidence of burnout was among physicians in emergency medicine, ob/gyn, family medicine, internal medicine, infectious diseases, and rheumatology.

Specialty can also be an impediment to career change. Primary care physicians with high medical-school debts and low practice income may be less willing to exit clinical care because they can't afford a lower income. On the other hand, specialists with high incomes may well find it very difficult to find nonclinical work that matches their current income.


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