What to do if you don’t want to practice clinical medicine

Have you ever considered walking out of the clinic and not looking back? Then you’re not alone. According to a 2021 non-clinical physician careers report, one in five physicians are thinking about leaving their primary jobs in medicine for a career outside of the clinic. Here’s a brief examination of why doctors are leaving their clinical jobs and where they’re going, along with some advice on the steps physicians should take if they’re planning a shift away from medicine.
The survey of roughly 2,500 doctors included questions about why clinicians are contemplating quitting medicine, as well as queries on what they plan on doing with their post-clinic lives. And many of the survey’s findings have been corroborated or contextualised by recent studies, which indicate that the physician exodus is the result of a variety of factors, from financial issues to work/life balance to pandemic-related stress.
Why doctors are leaving their clinical jobs behind

A study published in JAMA Network in September explored the disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic had on medical practices across the United States. Researchers noted a spike in April 2020, during which roughly 7% of practices (accounting for over 34,000 physicians) had stopped seeing all or some patients.
The authors wrote:
“Practice interruptions in the treatment of Medicare patients during 2020 exceeded those in 2019 and were concentrated in April—coinciding with the nadir of outpatient clinical volume due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic appears to have impeded return to practice more for older physicians than for younger physicians, consistent with anecdotal reports and survey findings regarding intent to close practices, retire, or otherwise transition away from clinical medicine.”
Most, but not all, of the interruptions were temporary.
Where they’re going

Many physicians (42%) thinking about leaving the clinic were considering teaching. Others were contemplating careers in nonclinical healthcare (34%), writing (27%), and the pharmaceutical industry (20%).
An article published by NEJM Career Service in 2019 notes that common nonclinical jobs for former doctors include drug development and consulting, medical technology and informatics, hospital leadership, health insurance, and positions in regulatory agencies.
Tips for doctors considering taking the leap

The NEJM Career Service article lists several pieces of advice gleaned from physicians who left the clinic for another career:
Explore your options thoroughly, and think carefully about why you’re leaving medicine and what you want to do instead. You can find plenty of resources to help you explore a new line of work on the web and on social media. It may help to talk this through with a neutral party, who can offer insight without an agenda.
Focus on networking, which can be critical in getting your foot in the door and opening a new path.
Don’t quit until it’s the right time. According to the NEJM Career Service article, you should plan on a minimum 2-year transition period, during which you may need to gain new skills and create contacts for your new career.
Be prepared to handle pushback from colleagues and mentors, and don’t let it put you off making a change if you believe that is the right thing for you to do.
It may also help to attend a conference on nonclinical careers designed for physicians, or seek career coaching/consulting (39% of survey respondents had pursued the latter). You can also find future career paths through specialist podcasts, online seminars, or an industry headhunter.
Bottom line

At times, it may feel like you’ll never find the nonclinical job you want. But don’t despair; as noted in an article published by ASH Clinical News in 2020, the skills and knowledge that physicians acquire are essential for almost any organisation that has to interact with the healthcare system. That means there are jobs that you’re very likely qualified for in fields like biotechnology, law, benefits management, medical writing, and more.

This story is contributed by Alistair Gardiner and is a part of our Global Content Initiative, where we feature selected stories from our Global network which we believe would be most useful and informative to our doctor members.
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