Physicians are leaving medicine for alternative careers

When physicians choose to leave clinical medicine to pursue alternative careers, what motivates them to make such changes? Is it money? More time with family? Scheduling flexibility? Avoiding litigation? To pursue new challenges? Maybe you’re getting bored with medicine.

Depending on that key motivating factor, physicians end up choosing all types of career paths. For instance, let’s take a look at some of these motivators:

Money. Let’s face it. Some physicians love money. They may be good at their job, but they have a stronger passion for a higher salary. If you’re driven to make more money so that you can enjoy life’s luxuries, then perhaps you plan to climb the corporate ladder and eventually rise to become a VP, Executive VP, Chief Medical Officer, or even President/CEO of a company. The earning potentials can go up exponentially if you’ve got the right business skills to excel in the corporate environment. Alternative careers in the business world can be financially rewarding if you’ve got the skills to excel in the business world.

Time with family. Maybe clinical medicine has you burned out. Perhaps you’re looking for an alternative physician career because you don’t want to spend so much time at work. You may see other people spending more time with their families and you want that as well. Certain alternative careers may give you more flexibility in your schedule. Perhaps you can even set your own schedule. Maybe you’d like to work from home so that you can take lunch breaks and eat with your family.

Pursuing new challenges. I seem to meet many physicians who are bored with clinical medicine. They see so many new business opportunities rising up in the world of health IT, consumer health education, online medicine, and other industries. Maybe you love clinical research and you want to be involved in drug development. Perhaps you’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurship bug and you’d like to start your own company.

Regardless of your reasons for wanting to pursue an alternative physician career, it’s important to make sure that you know how to map out your career transition plan. It’s not easy to leave clinical medicine and jump right into a company. There can be many challenges and barriers that you may need to overcome to prove your value to a business organization.

Are you serious about making a career transition?

Joseph Kim is a physician-executive who blogs at Non-Clinical Medical Jobs, Careers, and Opportunities.

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  • Poppy Daniels, MD

    Maybe some of us are sick of getting ROBBED by insurance and Medicare. Maybe salaried physicians or large multi-groups are sheltered from this reality, but as a solo practitioner, the current system meant I was barely breaking even. So I dumped that and went to fee-for-service…not because “I’m in it for the money,” please don’t insult me. The current system is set up to PREVENT you from practicing medicine and wants to assign you a cookbook protocol to follow. If you choose not to follow this protocol (by spending too much time with your patients, ordering the wrong tests, or failing to adequately justify to non-medical personnel your medical critical thinking), you will be punished by the insurance “bounty hunters.” Sure family time and other endeavors are important, but many doctors are sick and tired of being pimped out by the current system of having to see more and more patients due to weaker and sometimes absent reimbursement for work already performed.

  • Dr. Lawrence Kindo

    I think money and time with family are 2 major concerns that are frequently neglected in a doctor’s life. Many, including myself at some point in our career have thought about a diversion from the clinical scenario to help with our financial or family life. India in particular is known to be particularly harsh with fresh doctors who get paid peanuts and I feel this has driven many into taking alternative careers and prospects. I completely abhor the thought that new challenges should drive us to leave a medical career in which we have invested much time and money to achieve. It should rather complement or supplement and not be a total diversion from our medical career.

  • Hospitalist

    Or another reason – Go read the NYTimes Health blog and especially the posts that follow. The most recent one was about physicians dismissing symptoms (a real problem) followed by 100 scathing comments (and one or two realistic ones) about how arrogant, self-centered and greedy physicians are. I can’t speak for everyone, but I work hard and do the absolute best I can. And not only is it never good enough but it is because of character flaws. I don’t need necessarily need constant praise, but constant hatred can really grate on someone’s, even a physician’s, self-worth. To say we should “be above” it is saying that we should not be human and should not feel – yet these same critics are the ones who complain that there doctors “think they are God”. While I certainly want to improve myself as a physician, it is natrual and “human” to reach a point where preservation of self-worth says to just leave the situation.

    Physicians are leaving medicine for many reasons, and I think it is fair to add this one to the list. I honestly think that being in it for the money may help career satisfaction because at least you could tell yourself you are doing one thing right – making money. But if you are in it to improve other lives and find out that you are perceived as a terrible, greedy, careless person – well, you failed.

    Just two cents from someone who is trying their hardest but doesn’t know how to make everyone happy and still practice sound medicine at the same time.

  • Dr. Mary Johnson

    Hospitalist, I think you speak for a lot of us.

    As someone who was (1) never in it for the money, (2) called every nasty name in the book by an angry (professional-who-should-have-known-better) parent for doing things the right way, (3) then fired for ignoring the bogus “warning” that the parent’s complaint generated (i.e. NOT just “dismissing a nurses’s plea) in order to save the life of another woman’s child, (4) then done way-beyond-dirty by a UBER-CORRUPT system of government & legal oversight (that winked and nodded at the unethical/illegal actions of all those administrators/lawyers who were making a whole lot more money than I was) . . .

    . . . AND (5) who, in that giant cluster-screw, never got to have my own family – my own children (because I was too busy fighting off the dogs) . . . I have to ask . . .

    WHAT THE HELL do all of these people with the scathing comments at the NYT Health blog (who did not/do not care when good physicians are done dirty) want/expect?

    It took me a long time, but now I firmly believe that public, in large part, has the system it deserves – because its expectations are unrealistic and it has not done anything to help/protect “the good guys”.

    So the “good guys & gals”, who are tired of being taken-for-granted, and abused and hated, are getting out.

    With things as they are, and in the wake of healthcare “reform” that is just a JOKE, I’d LOVE to make a career transition away from clinical medicine.

    But honestly, wouldn’t I then risk becoming everything I’ve fought for so long (and DESPISE) in doing it?

  • Paul MD


    Very good.

    I sometimes watch shows about shoddy workmanship (Holmes on Homes) or deal with less than savory people in my professional and personal life, and I read the news.

    My blood boils when I am faced with the reality that there are people that wake up in the morning knowing perfectly well and with malice of forethought that they are going to screw unsuspecting people and possibly put them in harms way. To me, these actions are unforgivable and warrant severe repercussions.

    Docs like us and other health care providers, salaried and/or private get up with the intention of generating better healthcare and solving the problems for our patients. Sometimes with stellar results and sometimes with less than optimum results but always with the best of intentions and ablilities. It is our nature. I would challenge others to do better.

    Again, we have nothing to apologize for and neither do you.

  • anonymous patient

    To Hospitalist @ April 16, 2010 at 4:49 am

    Reading your comment made me cry. I am so sorry that you (and perhaps other doctors) feel this way. Please know that there are many patients out here who respect and appreciate their doctors. I see an awful lot of doctors for [fill in the name of a complicated and terminal disease] and am constantly impressed by their devotion, intelligence, and willingness to attempt the impossible on a daily basis. By now I know that there are many different sorts of excellent doctors. I don’t expect them to conform to some predetermined notion of perfection—the way they are is just fine. From what you write, I’m sure you are an excellent doctor too, and I wish more of your patients took the time to tell you so.

  • DJ

    Quote: “To say we should “be above it” is saying that we should not be human – yet these same critics are the ones who complain that their doctors “think they are God”

    Thank you. This is a brilliant analysis!

    A logical inconsistency of honest simian traits… Clarance Day would be proud! (the author of the classic “This Simian World”)

    As Hobbes, from Calvin and Hobbes, would say- ‘we are just a little stupid that way!’

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