5 Benefits to Having a Nonclinical Job as a Doctor

August 17, 2020

The phrase "nonclinical career" tends to be used interchangeably with "leaving medicine," which is far from accurate.

There is an impressive variety of nonclinical jobs available to physicians in numerous industries and sectors. An employee with a medical degree is an asset not just to hospitals and medical practices, but to any organization whose product or service relates to health, health care, or disease management.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency to think of nonclinical careers as a path taken only by physicians who are burned out, frustrated with clinical work, or unable to obtain a medical license. The phrase "nonclinical career" tends to be used interchangeably with "leaving medicine," which is far from accurate. There are many jobs that don't involve patient care activities but that do rely heavily on a doctor's medical knowledge, experience, and skills.

Nonclinical jobs come with many potential benefits. These depend on various factors related to the physician and the job; however, several tend to emerge frequently across the spectrum of nonclinical careers. This article covers five common benefits of nonclinical jobs for physicians.

Better work-life balance

Nonclinical jobs are often accompanied by a better work-life balance compared to clinical jobs. They tend to require fewer hours of work each week, and those hours are often regular and somewhat flexible. Most have no on-call duties and don't require work on weekends or holidays.

Some doctors, even when not at work, are burdened by worry about their patients. (Did I make the right treatment decision? Did I miss an important clinical finding?) While nonclinical work certainly comes with challenges, individual patient lives are not on the line, which can greatly decrease the amount of off-the-clock anxiety.

Taking a nonclinical job may mean that you exchange patient appointments for meetings and patient charting for emails; however, the pace of nonclinical work tends to be less hectic. You're be able to focus on a project without frequent interruptions.

Financial benefits

Your annual salary in a nonclinical position is unlikely to be much more than you're used to making as an employed physician doing clinical work. The salary may even be significantly lower, depending on the job and your specialty. Despite this, a nonclinical career is a smart financial decision for many doctors.

Nonclinical careers tend have career advancement opportunities more so than clinical practice. Salary increases come with this. Additionally, some employers in the private sector offer nonclinical physicians bonuses based on company and individual performance.

Fewer work hours enjoyed by many doctors in nonclinical positions means that they have more free time and energy to dedicate to income-generating activities outside of their day jobs. These can be engaging in consulting or freelance work, starting a small business, or even taking paid surveys.

Less risk

Fear of malpractice suits is widespread among medical providers. This fear is not unjustified. More than one-third of physicians have a medical liability lawsuit filed against them at some point in their careers. The litigious environment of health care delivery has several consequences for physicians in addition to fear:

  • High costs of malpractice insurance
  • Financial strain due to legal costs
  • Practice time lost due to time spent on legal issues
  • Potential for loss of personal and professional assets
  • Tarnished reputation

Liability and risk exist in any type of work, though risk tends to be far less in nonclinical jobs. Because you are not directly making management decisions for patients, there is limited potential for patients to sue you.

Greater variety and more engaging work

Physicians often see the same diagnoses and perform the same procedures repeatedly. Truly unique and interesting medical cases are sporadic among a primary care physician's cases of hypertension, back pain, and dermatitis.

Routine and tedious work happens in nonclinical jobs, as well; however, in many types of jobs, it is less frequent. Shifts in organizational priorities are commonplace and some companies regularly develop new products or lines of business. A nonclinical physician's activities within a pharmaceutical company may change significantly when a new drug enters the pipeline, for example.

In many companies, nonclinical physicians are able to transition between teams. For instance, a physician doing utilization management for a health insurance company may have the chance to shift to the insurer's population health and analytics division. Physicians with nonclinical careers can easily transition between companies using their blend of medical expertise and industry knowledge.

Opportunity to make a bigger impact

The benefits of a nonclinical job are not just benefits to the physicians holding those jobs. In many cases, the work of a nonclinical doctor positively impacts the overall health of an entire population of patients or consumers. Rather than treating individual patients, nonclinical roles allow physicians to use their medical skills in a broader way. Here are several examples:

  • A Health Officer in a county or state health department promotes and protects the health of the population in a geographic area.
  • The work of healthcare payor’s Medical Director impacts the health of plan's entire membership.
  • An entire customer market is influenced by the work of a physician in a company that develops any type of health-related technology, whether the customers are individuals, healthcare systems, or physician practices.

Physicians can undoubtedly be influential without directly treating a panel of patients.

A nonclinical job may have other benefits to you

These are only five potential benefits to nonclinical jobs for physicians. There may be several more that apply to you, depending on your interests and the value you can offer in a nonclinical work setting. Perhaps you'd benefit from doing less administrative work, being able to travel, or having the opportunity to work with a specific population demographic. Your career is your own, and how you choose to use - and benefit from - your medical training and experience is up to you.

Sylvie Stacy received her MD from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and completed a residency in preventive medicine at Johns Hopkins, obtaining an MPH along the way. She has held nonclinical jobs in medical writing, medical education, utilization management, and clinical documentation improvement. Her blog and online community, Look for Zebras, aims to equip medical professionals with the information and knowledge needed to take charge of their professional fulfillment and earn income doing work they enjoy. She recently published the book 50 Nonclinical Careers for Physicians.