How physicians can find careers beyond clinical medicine

July 18, 2013

Heidi Moawad, MD, wrote "Careers Beyond Clinical Medicine" to help doctors discover new career opportunities that don't involve practicing medicine. In this interview, Moawad talks about the first step physicians should take to explore new careers.

Heidi MoawadIt’s hard out there for primary care physicians.

Reimbursements have fallen, expenses are always rising, electronic health records often disappoint, physician burnout is up and job satisfaction is down.

Heidi Moawad, MD, a Cleveland-area neurologist and instructor at John Carroll University, gets all that. That’s why Moawad wrote a book, “Careers Beyond Clinical Medicine,” that’s aimed at helping physicians discover new careers that don’t involve practicing medicine.

In the interview below, Moawad talks about the first step physicians should take to explore new careers, what types of nonclinical occupations are typically most appealing to primary care physicians, and what skills doctors develop in medicine that make them attractive to employers.

Q: What are the most important skills that physicians gain from practicing medicine that are most easily translated to other types of work?

Doctors are required to master a great deal of material in medicine and patient care in order to pass medical school exams. Physicians also gain people skills and empathy through interactions with patients during times of illness and uncertainty. The hands-on work in a hospital or clinic teaches how to function well on a team. While being a doctor teaches those skills, not all doctors are the same, and every individual doctor also has an additional personal skill set, such as leadership, writing, speaking, financial insight, teaching, or innovation, that might not be directly useful or applicable in clinical medical practice. These doctor skills - knowledge, empathy and teamwork - combined with a physician's other personal skills can make a doctor a valuable asset when changing career paths.

 

Q: What are some of the most common occupations that attract physicians who stop practicing medicine?

Physicians, like many other professionals, often experience an evolution of professional goals and interests. There are more opportunities for lucrative nonclinical jobs than there are doctors to fill them. Some common roles for doctors include business, administration, and scientific research. But there is a long list of possibilities that are available to doctors.

Q: For physicians who are interested in exploring other careers, what’s typically the first step they should take?

I hear from a lot of physicians who want to do something besides clinical work, but do not know where to start. I often receive emails asking me, “What jobs are available? I will do anything.” While I know these doctors are trying to be flexible to avoid missing out on any opportunity, they wouldn't truly be happy with “anything.”

Doctors will have greater success if they understand their options and focus on what they actually want, which is almost never truly “anything.” Doctors need to begin by evaluating their personal and professional goals, which may have changed since applying to medical school. I had one doctor tell me that he jumped straight to chapter 6 in my book to see what the salaries of nonclinical work are. It turned out that his number one goal was to increase his salary and he was willing to work much more than at his clinical practice in order to achieve that goal. Other doctors want to work in global health, improving immunizations or water supply in impoverished countries, while many young mothers want to find a part-time alternative without the heavy cost of medical malpractice insurance. There are ways to make any goal work, and the first step is to evaluate goals and see which jobs correspond to those goals. 

Q: Are there any types of nonclinical occupations that primary care physicians typically find most appealing?

Generally, primary care physicians do well in jobs that require a big-picture outlook, such as hospital administration and public health. But I have seen many primary care physicians transition into other, more niche roles, such as grant writing and venture capital.