10 Alternative Careers for Physicians

Practicing medicine doesn’t always end up being the career physicians had in mind. Whether you’re looking to take a step back to spend time with family, or you’re leaving medicine for another career, there are plenty of alternative career moves for doctors to make. A few ideas include:

Open a part-time private practice

Some doctors may want to leave medicine behind due to the long hours and requirements of a clinical-based position. Opening a private practice comes with its own set of responsibilities, but it also adds a certain level of freedom to your job. If you’re just looking to get out of the bureaucracy of hospital life, consider a part-time private practice instead.

Teach medicine

With a median salary of $165,295, professors of medicine can make similar salaries as practicing physicians. Plus, since many universities across the country have pre-med or medical school programs, you have some agency over where you’ll work.

Write about medicine

If you’ve got a knack for writing, you could earn a living as a medical writer or editor. Scientific journals and medical blogs require writers with medical knowledge and will pay you on a freelance basis. Some places even offer full-time roles.

Work in the public health field

If you’re looking for a more community-oriented job you could take a position as a public health worker. Rather than working directly with patients, you act in a role that helps prevent sickness. They develop policies, create education programs, and promote wellbeing throughout their communities.

Consult

If you want to leave the medical field because you can’t overlook the flaws, consider helping to improve the industry by becoming a medical consultant. Consultants look at hospital business practices and offer insight on how to potentially improve the patient experience and the experience of hospital staff.

Research

If direct patient care isn’t for you any longer, a career in research may be a good option. For example, pharmaceutical research allows you to help create or enhance drug treatments for patients. As a researcher, you’ll have your pick between hospital labs, university research labs, and private institutions. As of 2022, a pharmaceutical researcher can make $127,312/year, on average.

Work in administration

If you’re looking for a more low-key way to participate in the health field, consider taking a job in health administration. This could be for a hospital, clinic, or a private practice. Depending on the position you take, you could be looking at a salary in the low six figure range.

Become a medical examiner

Medical examiners are fully trained doctors. If you’d prefer to try out the law enforcement field, this position could be the perfect way to combine your two interests. As a medical examiner, you’ll be responsible for performing autopsies and making a determination of how someone has died.

Work in the insurance agency

As a doctor, you have a unique understanding of the health insurance world, making it one of the best jobs for ex doctors. You could work as an actual physician in the health, life, or disability insurance field and do at-home physicals for insurance companies. You could also consider becoming an insurance agent or help develop policies with insurance companies.

Become a nutritionist

If you’re looking for something medical-adjacent, you could help folks understand their eating habits and make better choices for their diet. Nutritionists often work in their own private practice, but some work for the government, clinics, or nursing homes.

Why are Doctors Leaving the Medical Field?

The global pandemic has made life as a medical professional difficult, but doctors have succumbed to burnout culture long before the pandemic. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here are just a few reasons doctors are leaving the medical field:

Burnout culture

A survey done by Morning Consult shows that 1 in 5 healthcare workers have quit their jobs since February 2020. Of the workers that stayed on in their jobs, 12% say they have seriously considered leaving the healthcare field entirely. In the study, 49% of physicians say they quit because they were burnt out. Hospitals are a difficult place to work and many physicians have reached their breaking points. It’s not much of a surprise that emergency medicine physicians have reached the point of burnout the fastest.

Long hours

Doctors work a lot. An AMA Insurance study found that nearly one-quarter of physicians work between 61 and 80 hours per week. Add on the stress of the job itself, and for many physicians, that’s reason enough to take a step back from practicing medicine.

Insufficient pay

In their recent study, Medscape found that 28% of physicians claimed low salary as the reason they were feeling burnt out. While some physicians make a good salary, compared to the long hours and years of study, many doctors are still not paid well enough.

Unhappy with the bureaucracy

In the same Medscape study, a staggering 60% of doctors said the amount of paperwork on top of their patient load was the number one reason they considered quitting. Between paperwork and other clinical requirements, it’s simply too much for many doctors.

Leaving Medicine: The Financial Reality

As of 2020, physicians, on average, earned about $218,000. Quitting medicine leaves behind a high salary that can be difficult to replace. While salary should never be the only deciding factor in whether or not you leave a job, it should be a significant consideration. It’s not just your paycheck, either. Some physicians receive great benefits that can also be difficult to replace. Consider the following before deciding to leave your job:

  • Insurance: Doctors that work for hospitals or clinics often have access to good health, life, and disability insurance policies. Can you replicate these policies in other careers you’re considering?
  • Your retirement accounts: The retirement accounts you have access to will vary depending on your employer, but you’ll likely have access to some sort of account, whether it be a 401(k) or 403(b). You can find retirement options with other employers, but will they be as good?
  • Annual bonuses: Some doctors will be rewarded with annual bonuses as part of their compensation package. Consider this when calculating the total income you make as a practicing physician.
  • Time off: Does your employer offer a generous vacation policy? If so, take this into consideration.
  • Loan repayment assistance: Many doctors receive help in paying off their student loans from their employer. Often, you’ll need to end up working for a hospital in an underserved area in order to receive substantial assistance.

Questions to ask Yourself Before Leaving the Medical Field

Leaving a career that you dreamed of and spent almost a decade training for is not an easy decision. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself to help decide whether leaving medicine is the right choice for you.

Can your finances handle you leaving the medical field?

If you’re in massive amounts of student debt or have grown accustomed to your lifestyle with your current salary, you’ll need to make sure your finances can handle the weight of this decision. Will you and your family be able to keep up with bills? Can you afford your costly student loan payments? Make sure you consider all the angles before making a final decision.

Do you want to leave medicine entirely, or just your current position?

There are many paths you can take with your medical career. Before leaving the field altogether, consider whether or not you just want a change from your current position. If you’re having issues in your workplace, look for other opportunities before making the decision to leave your specialty.

What are my prospects outside of medicine?

If you want to leave medicine in any capacity, you do still need specific training and skills to take on other positions. Ask yourself if you’re ready for that kind of commitment.

What does leaving the medical field mean for your future?

It takes years of study and training before you can become a full-fledged doctor. To get to that point, only to change your goals entirely does come with some consequences. Consider how a career move will affect every aspect of your life.

Christopher Murray - Writer

Christopher Murray received a B.A. in English Literature and Gender Studies from Smith College. He now lives in Maine with his husband where he spends his free time watching reruns of The X-Files and dreaming of traveling in a refurbished VW Bus while writing the next Great American Novel. Chris has extensive writing and editing experience across a range of industries, but with a specialty in personal finance and investing.

Healthcare IndustryPublished April 05, 2022