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Medical Student Perspectives: Alternative Career Choices for Physicians

As medical students, we have chosen to enter a profession that holds endless opportunities and remarkable stability. As this year’s fourth year class matched into different specialties, we saw a vast array of people entering fields of medicine which will enable them to provide healthcare to tens of thousands of patients over their lifetime. One topic of discussion in medical schools that is often overlooked is that of alternative careers in medicine. There are various physicians across the world that put their skills and knowledge to use without encountering traditional patients. Even though the following list of ideas is not all encompassing, we will address pursuing careers with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, consulting firms, hospital administration, and public health opportunities.

Medical advances are consistently made in the medical industries of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. These companies need physicians to design new studies and write protocols. Physicians also initiate and monitor studies while juggling the tasks of interpreting data and preparing medical reports for company shareholders. They also work with administrators to develop strategies to bring new drugs or technologies to the market. Entrepreneurial opportunities are available to those physicians with bright and innovative ideas that include starting up companies in their respective fields.

Consulting firms also offer an intriguing spin to a career in medicine. With your alternative professional degree you can have experiences you could never have working in a conventional medical setting. Countries all around the world seek consultation about their health care systems and infrastructure. Pharmaceutical companies also demand services in analyzing market strategies for their drugs. Analysis of Medicaid programs is needed on a state-by-state basis and funding issues need to be resolved. Essentially, consulting leads you to think outside of the box and create efficiency standards in areas of health care while helping corporations and people do their jobs better.

Hospital administration is needed in every corner of your community. There are few physician leaders in health care and more are needed if the future of health care is to brighten. There is a multitude of opportunities in administration to make sure that hospitals operate efficiently and provide quality health care to patients. Hospital administrators are communicators between governing boards, medical staff, and department heads while integrating everyone’s expertise to ensure proper functioning of the hospital. A top official at a local hospital told me the easiest way to become an administrator is not to get an MBA but rather to fix a problem. Find a problem in the clinic where you work or the hospital you round in and provide a solution. When others notice your problem-solving skills, they will give you another to solve, and another. In this manner, your administration skills will develop naturally and people will learn that you are a problem solver.

Last, but definitely not least, are public health opportunities. Working in an underserved area, whether in the United States or abroad, provides rewarding experiences. The fruits of your labor are quite evident when working with indigent communities due to lack of health care and supplies. Immense opportunities exist, including the National Health Service Corps working in “mountain villages, bustling cities, desert townships, and along waterfronts.” They provide primary care to 50 million Americans living in health professional shortage areas. If you are looking for an international flavor of public health improvement, Doctors Without Borders or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organization that provides essential health care in response to armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, and natural disasters. There are also public health opportunities with agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The opportunities available after medical school are endless and exposure to many career options is critical. Alternative careers provide different lifestyles and experiences not available to physicians practicing in traditional settings. Some of these options have less stability than others but provide something else if that is what you are looking for. Medicine is a career path that leads you to create whatever you want from it. Shape it, experiment with it, and have fun with it; as it is yours for the making.

Viral Patel
Vice Chair, Council of Student Members
University of Kentucky College of Medicine, 2010
Email: viral.patel@uky.edu

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Back to May 2009 Issue of IMpact

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