According to a 2020 report by Medscape, approximately 42% of physicians report being burned out. Feeling no career satisfaction coupled with stress and burnout makes medical degree graduates think of switching careers.
While finding a well-paying career that grants you great work-life balance and less stress can be tough, there are a few options you can consider if you have a medical degree.
As a physician or someone working in a medical field, it’s often best to switch to a medicine-related profession. The education and expertise you have gained over the years will help you succeed in your profession unless you wish to leave the medical field completely.
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Alternative Careers With a Medical Degree
We have prepared a list of popular alternative careers for doctors leaving medicine along with the salary estimates based on data from reputable sources.
1. Healthcare consultant
Being a health consultant is one of the well-paying alternative careers for medical students and graduates. You can work at hospitals or for pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, medical device firms, or non-profit organizations.
As a healthcare consultant, your roles can include advising on technology integration, mergers, and acquisitions, research & product development, or even healthcare consumption.
If you opt to work as a management consultant in the healthcare industry, your roles can include providing an objective overview of the company, identifying its strengths and weaknesses, and developing strategies to facilitate improvement and progression.
The field of healthcare consultancy is ideal for medical practitioners looking for an attractive, well-paying option where they can harness their skills and experience without performing physician roles.
According to PayScale, the average annual base salary for healthcare consultants in the U.S. is $78,809. The highest earners enjoy salaries as high as $103,000 a year.
2. Medical teacher
Being a medical teacher will allow you to share a vast array of knowledge and expertise with medical students, veteran doctors, or members of the public. Your role means you can shape future teaching methods and help streamline the medical curriculum to accommodate advances in medicine, technology, government policies, and cultural changes.
Considering the advances in the digital age that have brought about new sets of learning methods and resources, working as a medical teacher with first-hand medical experience will put you in a strategic position to bring medical education into the 21st century.
Teaching at a major university can also be the perfect option for medical practitioners who wish to do research in the medical field. If research isn’t your cup of tea, you can still become a part-time medical teacher in community colleges.
According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for a medical teacher is $49,884 a year with the top earners getting more than $94,000 a year.
However, you can earn almost twice this if you become a medical professor and earn an average annual salary of $162,780. Typically, their salaries range between $142,200 and $223,100, which makes it one of the highest-paying alternative careers with a medical degree.
Being a pharmacist is also one of the well-paying alternative careers for medical degree holders. Pharmacists are primarily responsible for dispensing prescribed medication to patients. While most people might think this is the only thing pharmacists do, there is more to what meets the eye.
Pharmacists are a vital link between the general public and the healthcare system. They can assess undiagnosed conditions and provide the patients with over-the-counter medications when appropriate. Pharmacists can also refer patients to a doctor, which plays an instrumental role in relieving pressure on the overstretched healthcare system.
It’s worth keeping in mind that if you already have a medical degree then you still need to complete a master’s degree to become a pharmacist. However, you can still qualify if you already have extensive experience and training working in a hospital pharmacy.
The mean annual wage for a pharmacist is $125,460 while the highest earners receive more than $164,980 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
4. Medical writer
Becoming a medical writer can be an excellent way of putting your hard-earned knowledge and expertise to good use. As a professional medical writer, your medical expertise will enable you to work with pharmaceutical and medical device companies, public health agencies, as well as healthcare publications such as online journals and magazines.
You can also play a key role in the development of medical textbooks, peer-review articles, and test prep materials. Other roles of medical writers include producing medical papers, reviews, and manuscripts for publication in medical journals, newsletters, and websites.
Medical writers also play a key role in the development of new drugs and clinical trials where they are involved in writing protocols for studies and recommendations for new treatments and medicines. If you have a passion for journalism, you can become a medical journalist, correspondent, or columnist.
While it’s a well-paying medical job, medical writing requires dedicated professionals willing to put in hours of rigorous research and construct cogent medical arguments.
According to a salary survey done by the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), the median annual salary for medical writers is $107,000 for full-time employees and $151,000 for freelance professionals.
5. Genetics counselor
Genetic counselors are trained healthcare professionals who specialize in evaluating a family’s risks of inherited genetic conditions. They inform the families on the likelihood of genetic disorders being passed on along with explaining the immediate effects and long-term consequences of living with a genetic condition.
Genetic counselors are also trained counselors as their roles include helping families decide on any future actions such as whether or not to proceed with a planned or unplanned pregnancy. Making such decisions won’t be easy, and genetic counselors have to be compassionate and empathetic when helping the family.
Genetic counselors also play an active role in the treatment and care of patients with inherited conditions. In their quest to improve the treatment and care they provide their patients, these healthcare professionals will often be involved in medical research. They gather useful information such as family histories and long-term changes in symptoms.
According to the latest data, genetic counselor jobs will grow by about 29% by 2021. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary of genetic counselors is $89,710 and the top earners receive salaries more than $126,350 a year.
6. Medical photographer
Medical photography helps doctors diagnose and record changes in conditions before, during, and after treatments. It also documents the procedures, medical equipment used, and autopsy results.
Medical photographs play a vital role in medical research, appear in scientific journals and newsletters, and can be used as teaching resources. You need high technical skills to take clear photos that are neither open to interpretation nor misleading in any way.
Medical photographers also take medical videos such as during surgical procedures. They should be experienced in photo and video editing and have great production skills to ensure the final piece is medically accurate and no vital medical information is left out.
As a medical photographer, you will likely work in hospital settings or clinics and with different people including doctors, patients, nurses, and other hospital staff. You need a degree in photography and a postgraduate certificate in clinical photography.
Medical photographers earn a mean annual salary of $45,049 and the top paid professionals receive more than $110,000 in wages.
7. Forensic medical examiner
Another alternative career you can do with a medical degree is to become a forensic medical examiner. Forensic experts examine crime scenes, provide crucial criminal evidence in trials, and support investigation into civil matters such as establishing paternity.
Forensic examiners’ primary role is to establish the cause of death. They carry out postmortem examination in search of signs of trauma or high levels of toxicity. Their findings, recommendations, and assessments play a vital role in the prosecution or defense of criminal suspects.
As a forensic medical examiner, your assessment, recommendations, and opinions will have a profound effect on any judicial case, people’s lives as well as the entire judicial system. That’s why the information you provide should be based on scientific evidence and established medical practices.
This field is very competitive but the financial rewards are worth it. Entry-level wages for forensic medical examiners is $100,000 a year while experienced professionals earn more than $130,000 a year.
Here’s a short clip of Forensic Scientist Sarah Rambadt from Michigan State Police, Forensic Science Division (Grand Rapids Laboratory). Video Courtesy: Michigan State Police.
8. Pharmaceutical researcher
The ever-dynamic field of medical research can be an ideal career path if you no longer want to be a physician working in a hospital. As a pharmaceutical researcher/scientist, you will specialize in one aspect of a drug development process.
Your roles may include:
- Designing new drug therapies using synthetic or natural ingredients
- Uncovering new ways to use the existing drugs in treating and managing different diseases
- Studying how the human body responds to medications in order to develop better, safer drugs
- Testing drugs on animals and humans to ensure they pass safety and efficacy tests
- Determining effective drug dosage for specific diseases
- Helping to improve the drug manufacturing process
These are just a few of the roles pharmaceutical researchers do. You can work with pharmaceutical firms, in hospital labs, research institutes, medical research facilities, or university research facilities.
The mean annual salary of experienced pharmaceutical scientists ranges between $104,000 and $210,000 a year. Their average salary is about $124,556 as of 2021. Your salary will depend on factors such as education, certifications, number of years in the profession, and additional skills.
9. Occupational physician
Occupational physicians are consultant specialist doctors who specialize in managing work-related conditions. They help workers by advising them on how their health affects their ability to be productive and how their work affects their health.
They are recognized by the legal sector as having the necessary expertise in the inherent requirements of jobs and one’s capacity to be productive in their particular job. Occupational physicians help sick patients to achieve good health and return to work or maintain good health and stay at work.
In a nutshell, it’s a job that largely involves providing health advice and education to employees and organizations to help prevent workplace injuries, maintain high standards of health & safety at work, and ensure workers are in good health and remain productive.
The mean annual salary for occupational physicians in the United States is $226,176 with the top earners enjoying annual salaries of more than $302,532. Such salaries make this job the crème de la crème of alternative careers with a medical degree.
10. Public health worker
Another job you can do with a medical degree is to become a public health worker. Public health workers are responsible for providing essential public health services to the general population. Some of their roles include:
- Identifying and investigating health issues and hazards in the general population
- Providing communities with the essential personal health services
- Developing plans and policies that help foster individual and community health initiatives
- Searching for new ideas & innovative solutions to health problems
- Preventing the spread of infectious diseases or environmental hazards
According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for a public health worker in the United States is $52,146. The top earners getting as high as $112,500 a year, which makes it one of the well-paying alternative careers for medical students.
11. Transplant coordinator
Transplant coordinators help coordinate activities related to organ donation and transplant. They work with the recipients to evaluate their eligibility for an organ transplant. They also liaise with the medical, paramedical, and non-medical personnel during the various stages of the process.
These professionals also evaluate donor organs to determine their suitability for transplant and arrange transplant surgeries for the recipients. A transplant coordinator will also follow up on both the donor and the recipient to ensure they get appropriate post-surgical care.
According to PayScale, the average base salary for a transplant coordinator is $79,169 per year. The top earners receive more than $104,000 a year on wages, which makes it one of the well-paying alternative careers with a medical degree.
12. Medical/Pharmaceutical sales representative
If you believe you have what it takes to rake in sales from medical products, working as a medical or pharmaceutical sales representative might just be the perfect job for you. You will act as a link between healthcare professionals or facilities and pharmaceutical companies.
According to Glassdoor, the average base salary for medical and pharmaceutical sales reps in the U.S. is $53,130 per year with the top-paid professionals earning more than $96,000 a year. Such salaries make it an ideal career for doctors leaving medicine.
13. Aviation medical examiner
Aviation medicine involves assessing the fitness and health of pilots and crew to fly. It is a medical specialty that combines aspects of preventive, environmental, occupational, and clinical medicine with the psychology and physiology of man in flight.
The role of aviation medical examiners includes assessing whether the pilots and the crew are fit to fly, reducing the risks of spreading communicable diseases by air travelers & crew, and mitigating the effects of such spread through cooperative arrangements with the relevant authorities/agencies.
The average annual salary for an aviation medical examiner in the United States is between $80,000 and $150,000 depending on different factors such as experience, position, and the agency you work with.
Why Medical Degree Graduates Look for Alternative Jobs
As earlier noted, more than 42% of physicians report burnout every year in the United States. This is one of the main reasons why some will opt to find alternative careers with their medical degrees.
1. Physical & emotional burnout
Working in the medical field and especially as a physician can be stressful and physically exhausting. You have to deal with working off-hours, rigid hospital schedules, and challenging medical cases.
Surprisingly, a report by ResearchGate indicates that doctors spend between 25% and 60% of their workday on paperwork rather than directly assisting patients.
All these factors can lead to physical and emotional burnout, which forces many doctors to consider other low-stress jobs where they can earn a decent income and get to spend quality time with friends and family.
2. Need for better work-life balance
Being a physician rarely provides anyone with a good work-life balance. While most physicians can enjoy putting in a few extra hours at the onset of their careers, over time they struggle to balance work, daily life, and family.
They will often spend more time at work and less with friends and family. On top of this, they will have to handle the physical, emotional, psychological stresses their job carries.
In their quest to find a better work-life balance, physicians could end up opting for a career with lighter work and good pay. Some even choose to leave the medical field altogether in their quest to find fun jobs that pay well.
3. Wrong career choice
There are many graduates who pursued a career simply because their parents wanted them to or because their close friends chose that career. Over time they realize they picked the wrong career and will have to face the daunting task of starting all over again.
This also applies to some medical graduates, who after graduating and getting employed realize that what they’re doing was never and can never be “their calling”.
After spending close to ten or even more years as a medical student and a resident, you might opt to find quick certifications that pay well. You can complete any of these programs in less than two years and still enjoy good wages.
4. Passionate about another career
There are instances when doctors quit their jobs due to the irresistible urge to pursue a career in a field they are passionate about. It could be a field closely related to healthcare or something entirely different.
Either way, sooner or later your passionate will win and you find yourself trending a new career path.
5. Money matters
While being a doctor is one of the highest-paying medical jobs in the United States, there will always be an urge to make more money before your retirement age draws near.
You will often compare the amount of work and sacrifices you have to put up with against how much you get in return. Over time you will begin to value your time more, which will make you consider switching to the private sector or mastering a new profession.
6. Unforeseen events
An example of an unforeseen event that has made many doctors consider a career change is COVID-19. Working with patients in extreme conditions and having to watch them die one after another can take a toll on anyone’s mental and emotional health.
On top of that, there are many doctors and nurses who have lost their lives due to the disease, and the risk of being the next in line will always be there.
This explains why nearly 20% of surgeons and physicians said they prefer to make a career change, according to Stanford Medicine’s 2020 Heath Trends report.
Tips for a Successful Career Switch
If you’re planning to switch to a new career or job, there are a few things you should consider. Making sure you are well-prepared for the new territory you intend to enter will ensure you enjoy a successful transition.
1. Consider available opportunities
You should take time to do in-depth research about available job openings. Being aware of all the available opportunities will make it easy for you to make the right choice.
You should check online job boards and organization websites to identify job openings in projects you have a real interest in then proceed to read through job descriptions and their requirements. Doing this will help you rule out options that do not seem ideal for you.
2. Consider additional education
There are instances where you just cannot switch to a new profession unless you have met education requirements for professionals in that field. Good examples include being a pharmacist or a cosmetologist.
You need relevant education and/or certification. You need to enroll for the prerequisite programs so that once you choose to switch to a new career you can easily find a job.
3. Optimize your resume
Another thing you need to do is to optimize your resume for the new career choice. The resume should make it clear to potential employers that you’re the right fit for their company or business.
Let your resume act as a bridge between your past work experience and the new position you intend to fill. Make it easy for the employer to understand why your past work experience will play a vital role in helping succeed in your new role.
4. Customize cover letters
Each individual cover letter should be optimized to match the individual potential employers on your list. Customizing your cover letter will help you convince the employer of your potential and capabilities and why your skills and expertise are exactly what they’re looking for.
Do not create a generic cover letter then proceed to edit only the address details. Make each cover letter unique to stand a higher chance of landing your dream job.
5. Make a good impression during the interview
After landing an interview, making sure you make a good impression and showing you’re the best candidate will be key. This involves finding out as much as possible about the hiring company, identifying the roles and job descriptions to find how you can customize your responses on why you’re the right fit for the job, asking questions to demonstrate commitment and enthusiasm, turning off your mobile phone, and making sure you’re not late for the interview.
We have highlighted thirteen alternative careers for graduates with a medical degree. There are many other jobs you can shift to if you are a medical graduate. Whether you decide to stay within the healthcare industry or not, your medical degree has the ability to open many doors for you.