Early-career clinicians devote many extra years to their education and training after college, much of it paid for out of their own pocket. Therefore, for those debating whether to pursue an “alternative” career, the thought can be daunting. Are they even qualified to do anything other than practice medicine? Will all those extra years of education and training go to waste?
The short answer is, yes, you are qualified for a non-clinical career and no, your education and training will not to go to waste. An important first step toward a non-clinical career is to decide which jobs are of interest to you.
Administration. While hospital administration is the classic example, clinician administrators are also found in a variety of other work environments. For example, they may work within federal and state agencies as health scientist administrators and program officers. There are also opportunities in the non-profit sector, within medical associations, think tanks, and foundations.
Consulting. Clinicians are a hot commodity for management and health care consulting firms. Not only do they offer content expertise, but also an on-the-ground perspective on problems related to healthcare. They also tend to be good with people, are intellectually curious, and are strong analytical thinkers—all attributes valued by consulting firms.
Communications. Medical writing, journalism, and publishing are just some of the communications-related areas offering career opportunities. Clinicians’ expertise and perspectives are valuable for identifying hot topics, controversies, and recognizing innovations that have the potential to significantly impact the practice of medicine.
Industry. Pharmaceuticals, devices, and biotech are just some of the industries where clinicians may seek an alternative career. In addition to positions related to research and development, clinicians also work in the medical affairs, marketing, and advocacy departments at various companies. There are also opportunities available for physicians in other industries such as nutrition, agriculture, and health informatics.
Confirming that you are truly interested in an alternative career and identifying a potential career path is half the battle. Once you’ve made your decision, you need to take some extra steps to set yourself up for success on the alternative job market.
Identify your transferable skills. Sure, you’ve trained years and years for the sole purpose of practicing medicine, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t picked up other skills along the way. It’s important to put a name to these transferable (or “soft”) skills. These might include: strong presenting and writing skills; the ability to analyze and draw conclusions from large amounts of data; communicating complex information in a way that a lay person can understand; leading and managing a team; and the ability to juggle multiple demanding responsibilities at the same time.
Seek opportunities to fill in the gaps. Once you’ve completed an honest inventory of your skills, look for major holes that significantly weaken your resume. For the career path you’re interested in, is there a particular experience or skill that is absolutely critical? This way, before you go on the job market, you can seek out specific experiences that strengthen your appeal.
Get another person’s opinion. You may think you’re underqualified, but everyone else may not. Be sure to get your resume reviewed by a variety of people, including those who know you well and those who know what it takes to succeed in your career of interest.
Network. Who you know is just as important, perhaps even more important, than what you’ve accomplished. After all, when you have hundreds of qualified people applying for the same job and they look the same on paper, a personal reference goes a long way. Maintain the relationships that you already have, and be assertive when there are opportunities to add new people to your network. A great way to do this, of course, is to participate in professional meetings. Informational interviews are another way to meet new people while also gathering information about careers you may be interested in.
Alison Kim, PhD, is associate director of grant development and strategic research at the Endocrine Society in Chevy Chase, MD.