Alternative Career Paths for Doctors
Many medical students and doctors feel that a career in medicine (or at least its most traditional sphere) isn’t for them after at all. If this is the case, it’s worth thinking how directly you want to use the skills and knowledge you’ve built up; it might be the case that you wish only to use the soft skills you’ve learnt.
The easiest way to view careers for doctors is to divide them into five areas; traditional medicine, alternative settings for medicine, scientific work, jobs that use medical knowledge, and other careers.
Directly Using your Medical Degree
Traditional Medicine is the path you’d expect to follow upon graduation from medical school - practising medicine in the NHS, with or without setting up a private practice. Alternative Settings for medicine include defence medicine, charity medicine like Médicins sans Frontières, prison medicine, maritime medicine, expedition medicine or public health. Doctors frequently move into expedition medicine or charity medicine alongside their principal career, or for a period of time as a career break. Scientific work will appeal to those who enjoy the academic side of medicine, without enjoying the clinical side or patient contact as much. Common careers are clinical science, academia, industry research, and clinical research. Bear in mind that these roles may require further qualification, or having reached a high level of speciality training in a relevant field.
Indirectly Using your Medical Degree
Moving to jobs that use medical knowledge, you are able to see a broader range of possibilities that expand away from clinical, medical roles. Medical communications - including medical publishing, medical education, medical advertising and medical journalism - is a popular field for those that wish to still be able to deploy the medical knowledge they’ve accrued. Medical law and working as a patent attorney both require further academic study - patent attorneys can work on the job to sit their Patent Examination Board exams, and would typically become a qualified patent attorney in 4-6 years. Medical law requires a law degree alongside training on the job. Both careers can expect far higher salaries than traditional medical work. Medical consultancy is a popular alternative route - there are multiple specialist firms offering healthcare consulting.
Other careers can, of course, include almost any field. However, there are certain areas that link more obviously to medicine, and where you may be more able to sell yourself as a doctor. Venture capital firms may be healthcare specific, and therefore an obvious choice for a doctor pursuing an alternative path. Industry agnostic firms will also invest in health tech. Equally, you may wish to move away from health completely. Private equity firms are likewise very competitive - with the due reward of a salary far higher than in traditional medicine. Expect to do a series of exams in PE (the CFA) whereas VC is normally more relaxed, especially if working for smaller firms.
Management consultancy can be viewed similarly to medical consultancy - again, see the article linked above.
Setting up your own startup - becoming a Doctorpreneur - is risky but potentially rewarding. Bear in mind that your short term income will be low. Creating a startup may also serve as a good stepping stone to VC - most recruit principally from private equity / banking and startups.
Not-for-profit organisations are a good choice for those that have a real desire to ‘give back’ - just bear in mind that the salary provided will be lower than many of the other careers you could choose. Choosing to train in public health, then moving toward NGOs, can allow you to enter at a senior level.
It can be incredibly hard to ‘leave’ traditional medicine behind - especially knowing that you’re trained to do a job that is important, rewarding and well-respected. Therefore there’s often the desire to find the perfect job to justify leaving, and a disappointment if this perfect job doesn’t seem to exist.
If ever in doubt, just remember that Roger Bannister, Pope John XXI, Arthur Conan Doyle, Che Guevara and Chekhov were all, technically, doctors - but certainly not known as such!
Author - Tristram Lewis-Stempel