Non-Clinical Career or Switching Out of Medicine?

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    I’m an MD that switched early on in the game from clinical medicine to pursuing a non-clinical career in health insurance and more recently in entrepreneurship.

    As a little bit of background, I was pretty certain by my third year of medical school that clinical medicine was not for me, but had little knowledge/opportunities/support to be able to explore fields outside of medicine.

    I loved the preclinical years – physiology, anatomy, pathology (perhaps not biochem so much..:) ) – and was extremely excited to be on the medicine journey.

    Then the clinical years hit – and almost immediately I did not resonate with the clinical application of the textbook information. I enjoyed being with patients, but did not get excited by clinical signs, was bored in surgery and thought the quality of life for the residents and consultants/attendees was poor (skipping meals/bathroom breaks, working 12+ days regularly, black bags under their eyes…). Managing stroke patients, palpating enlarged livers, assisting with appendectomies or working my way through overbooked outpatient clinics was not my idea of something I could realistically do for the next 40 years without dying of boredom.

    So lo and behold, I graduated med schoool with honours, but the unhappiness, tiredness and frustration mounted quickly. Eight-minute consultations with patients just to adjust their prescriptions had me feeling less-than-fulfilled to say the least (glorified pharmacist comes to mind), and it was frowned upon to spend any longer with patients in clinic or on ward rounds – the team, whether medicine or surgery, just had too many demands to get through each day.

    I’m not even going to start with the on-call part – 30-hour shifts, beeper going off non-stop etc. etc. On my first call, I got four hours of accumulated sleep, and was told the next day that that was an ‘excellent’ call and I should consider myself lucky… again, the quality of life, health implications and just expecting better for my future certainly came to the forefront. Was I doomed to spend the rest of my life like an overworked, non-passionate, zombie-like doctor who thinks four hours of sleep is excellent? I shuddered at the thought.

    When looking outside of medicine, any of the ‘support’ and ‘information’ available was if you couldn’t ‘hack’ it in medical school or residency (roll eyes), then you could pursue a master in international health, public health, medical management etc. Again, after doing a bit of research, these degrees didn’t offer a passionate career that I was hoping medicine would have satisfied.

    What surprised me the most was not the paucity of information available on the world wide web for physicians looking to pursue a non-clinical career or quit medicine (there is a bit more information now how many years later), but instead what shocked me was the resistance from other physicians. I couldn’t believe the amount of other MD’s who made the following statements:

    -“You’re crazy for leaving medicine, look at all you have invested (time, $$ etc.)!” – My response: Just because you’re digging a hole and realize it’s in the wrong place does not mean that you need to keep digging! Stop, climb out, and start again. We are not a tree, we can move.

    -“You’re going to waste over half a decade of training and knowledge, right down the tube!” My response: Just because I am trained as a physician does not mean that my accumulated experience, skills and knowledge will be wasted. These can be applied to a multitude of clinical and non-clinical settings. Think of quality control and management (all those medical notes you write!), time management (getting through a 50-patient day clinic, hypokalemic patient on the ward and consults throughout a regular working day), prioritization, ability to handle (literal) life-and-death situtations with time constraint, incredible skill of absorbing volumes of dense, complex information in a short period of time for practical application… these are all skills that we have as physicians that very few people outside of the clinical arena in the corporate or start-up world have. Talk about an A-grade applicant!

    -“You’ll never make it. Medicine is the only thing we know.” My response: Dude, we’ve overcome insurmountable odds to make it through pre-med and medical school. We’ve pulled all-nighters, taken (and passed!) some of the most difficult exams in the world and dealt in life-or-death situtations in the workplace each and everyday. Relax, switching career is not like climbing Mt. Everest during an avalanche – it’s just switching career.

    I resigned from my clinical position, and my consultant/attending at the time, an incredible rheumatologist and all around gentleman, understood and encouraged me taking time off to “travel and do what I need to do”. Then he closed off saying: “You’re a great clinician, so I would be happy to be your reference when you return to medicine.” I was more than grateful for the understanding and support. As I walked out of the hospital for the last day, it then struck me – he actually expected this to be a ‘short break’ and then I’ll be back in the clinical field. It never occured to him that I would be walking away from clinical medicine permanently!

    To make a long story short, I successfully nagivated a place in public health insurance for a few years and quite enjoyed it – developing policies and procedures that impacted thousands of patients at a time was exciting. However, alas and alack, bureaucracy (and politics) is the antithesis of progress and implementation and eventually became very weary.

    Now I’ve recently started my own business, and really enjoying the journey – the ups, downs and wins, big and small, that growing a business from the ground up provides. Again, totally different from clinical medicine and health insurance, but exciting all the same.

    What about you?

    Have you ever thought that clinical medicine isn’t what it has cracked up to be?

    Have you wondered if you were meant for a different path in life?

    Have you ever wanted to find your true purpose and passion, but you’re married to medicine?

    Have you thought about a non-clinical career or a total switch in careers – from doctor to chef, fashionista, business owner, finance, author..?

    Would love to hear your thoughts and musings! You’re definitely not alone! 🙂


    I think it’s great that you realized that clinical medicine was not right for you, and that you are exploring other areas that are more fulfilling. I am happy that I am in medicine, but a lot of people here are not. I think some of them are feeling the same things you do — mainly, that medicine is not right for them. I think for others, they are frustrated and burnt out because it is difficult to balance the inflexibility of medicine with the demands of parenting. I think maybe the latter group is more likely to miss medicine and to want to return once things settle down at home. And maybe there are others who are trying to figure out why they are unhappy and what to do about it.

    You may want to check out a post called “nonclinical careers forum now open – private.” It seems that people are always asking to be included in it. (I have not been there myself so I can’t tell you exactly what they talk about.)


    Thanks for your response sahmd!

    Definitely! I think for some, medicine is a calling and true life passion. These MD’s are living with a purpose and are fulfilled – and that is really awesome to see. Unfortunately, the flip side is that sooo many physicians are overworked, unhappy and angry with their position in life, but feel that they are trapped, boxed-in and have no options. I was there so I know what it feels like, and it’s not a conducive or sustainable way to live! I was fortunate enough to be able to switch careers (twice!) and live a truly balanced, fulfilling life outside of medicine. I hope I am able to lend a motivating, supportive, helping hand to someone else also going through or thinking about a transition!

    Thank you for letting me know about the nonclinical careers forum!! 🙂


    Thanks for this post KCMD!
    I am a single mom doc who has switched careers relatively early on. I’m family med/integrative medicine by training, and experienced burnout twice in my career. It was then I realized that people like me (other physicians) needed support so I turned my attention to supporting my colleagues through coaching, training, and workshops. Medicine was a calling for me, and I didn’t transition because I didn’t love what I do. I transitioned because I discovered a new calling that was bigger than one on one clinical practice. I still see patients on a very part time basis, however I will likely move completely out of the consumer world within the next year as the fulfillment of this new dream and endeavor comes to pass.
    Also, like you KCMD, I have other entrepreneur endeavors (getting into the online learning world). I love that I have found a new calling that give other physicians more power, freedom and happiness in their lives while at the same time creating more time and freedom for myself and my son!


    Hi @Stress Free Mom MD,

    Thanks so much for sharing! That’s incredible that you discovered a new passion outside of medicine! It’s wonderful to hear of other physicians who have found that medicine is not the be-all-and-end-all of their life and career 🙂

    How did you first get into coaching?


    Thanks KCMD!
    It’s funny, I first got into coaching with my patients. They were coming in for various medical issues, but there was a common underlying theme of stress being the cause. Seeing that I trained as a coach, and it proved very valuable. It was here that I first discovered my love for the craft. I’ve been a coach (in addition to integrative physician) for 10 years and it’s the thing I’m most passionate about. I’ve since also certified in other various coaching techniques like hypnosis, NLP, and Time Line Therapy. In the fall of 2017, I will begin my NLP Physician certification program :-). As you can see, my commitment runs deep and wide.


    Hi @Stress Free Mom MD,

    That is amazing! I can see that you are definitely providing huge value to your patients and clients and loving it at the same time 🙂

    Do you have a website or blog? I would love to have it on hand as reference and to refer appropriate clients if the circumstance arises!


    Absolutely! the Website is
    I’d love to be a resource for you and whomever you feel I could be of benefit! 🙂

    Let me know if you ever need a brainstorming partner as well! I love connecting with other Dr. Mommies!


    Awesome @Stress Free Mom MD!! I love your site – your blog posts are refreshing and on point! Plus your pictures really capture the feelings of frustration and exhaustion we’ve all felt while working clinically!

    My site is – will definitely connect again! 🙂

    Hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday and new year!

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