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Alternate Careers for Physicians…but I Only Know How to Do One Thing!
Written by Ardena L. Flippin, MD, MBA   
 Alternate physician careers

How does one reinvent oneself after spending years of education and training to serve and practice only one thing in life?

Physicians don't have to continue to work in a frustrating environment or sacrifice their desire to continue working; they can find new horizons and career opportunities within the growth of technology and health care-related industries. In fact, physicians have come to be viewed as a valuable asset to law firms, businesses, consulting firms and other corporations.

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Physicians are leaving clinical medicine for various reasons:

  • The changing practice environment due to administrative demands, paperwork, growth of managed care, corporatization of medicine, increased reporting requirements
  • To pursue other interests and/or to use unused skills
  • Declining reimbursement, rising malpractice rates and lawsuits
  • Burn-out or general dissatisfaction
  • Baby boomers leaving clinical practice to enjoy retirement

Most physicians have no idea what they would do if they weren’t seeing patients, and since they have never been unemployed in their adult lives, they don’t know how to search for a job, evaluate their career options, or explore a new career path. Many experience feelings of guilt or fear of the unknown. 

As such, physicians will have to become comfortable with the concept of “managing” their careers and accept what they might consider the “warm and fuzzy” approach of undergoing self-assessment, counseling, testing and advising. This is an essential “process” that will help to determine their interests, skills, values, and most-liked skills. This helps to provide the critical objective analysis and right approach to determining your best “fit” to the market.  

In 1990, Rucker and Keller (Careers in Medicine: Traditional and Alternative Opportunities) identified twelve broad employment opportunities for physicians outside of clinical practice, and three fields were found to be full of opportunities for doctors:  bioinformatics, patent law and government legislation and policy.  Bioengineering is a new field of employment. The field of biotechnology is well established and the field of biopharmaceuticals is instrumental in drug development and sub specialist internists are the population from which most physicians are hired.

Besides the traditional positions of expert witness, sales representative for a medical company or medical director for a biotech firm, there are newer concepts in health coaching, e-health and medical journalism.

There is controversy as to whether or not an advanced degree will assist a physician in the world outside of clinical medicine if they have never worked beyond the bedside or in the business world.  Many physicians who are disenchanted with medicine are also disenchanted with the idea of starting over in an educational process.

My biggest fear is that by not “managing” or taking stock of our careers and figuring out for ourselves how best to market our intellectual capital in areas other than clinical medicine, we may find ourselves in a replay of how managed care assumed the “business” of medicine for us and some other area of the business world might decide how best to harness our intellectual capital.

About the Author

Dr. Flippin brings a wealth of experience, starting with her long tenure as an attending physician at the Cook County Hospital Emergency Department. She is currently Corporate Compliance and HIPAA Privacy Officer at major Chicago hospital.


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