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Interested in a non-clinical career path? Here’s where to start.

Published on: Sep 19, 2019


Nearly everyone who pursues a career in medicine has the goal of improving patient lives. The methods for doing that, however, can take on different forms. There are several alternative-career paths that, in many instances, have physicians putting in little or no time in a clinical setting. AMA news writer Brendan Murphy interviewed three physicians who have pursued unique paths and share their insights on the process.

Christopher Cimino, MD, chief medical officer, Kaplan Medical.

John Andrews, MD, vice president for graduate medical education innovations, AMA.

John Whyte, MD, MPH, chief medical officer, WebMD.

How do you stay connected to medicine if you’re not seeing patients?

Dr. Cimino: I'm interacting with students and, in a sense, they are my patients. So, there's a lot in patient care that's about communication and understanding the patients’ view of the problem, and it turns out that's very similar to what you do with students. So, in that sense that was always the [part of] medicine and patient interaction that I like the most, and I still get to do that as I teach.

How did you decide your career path was right for you?

Dr. Andrews: I'm a pediatrician. I've spent most of my career working in medical education. I was a medical student clerkship director, directed a pediatrics residency program and most recently was associate dean for graduate medical education at the University of Minnesota.

I don't view my path as an alternate path; I view it as the application of my interest. It’s been a natural pattern of growth, as I said I've worked in medical education throughout my career. As I moved, in each successive move, one of the painful things is that the responsibilities I have taken on have distanced me from the things I most enjoy and the things I'm probably best at. So, I got into administration and education primarily because I was a good teacher. And the more administration you do, the less teaching you do.

How should residents and medical students approach learning about alternative careers?

Dr. Whyte: I always [ask] students and residents, ‘Whose career do you respect and want to be like? Do you want to be like the surgeon general? Do you want to be a Medicare official?’ A lot of folks who are interested [in] policy will say those things.

What type of industries are good places for alternative careers in medicine?

Dr. Cimino: Education clearly is a big player. There are always roles for people to do expert-witness testimony. That's another big one. Then in the industry, pharmaceutical companies are always looking for medical expertise. Insurance companies [are looking for people to] review medical records; some of them don't even require that you have a medical license, simply that you have an MD.

There are opportunities for people who haven't had patient care experience and that's in some ways a scarier jump. I would advise students—as a dean of students—who [were] reaching the end of medical school but weren't sure they really wanted to go into clinical practice, weren't sure they wanted to do a residency … they all found jobs. I think it's rare to see an unemployed physician who wants to be employed.

To read the full article and links to more resources, see AMA’s Transition to Practice page.