There are times when you need to change your career path in medicine. Maybe you still enjoy the science of medicine or dealing with patients but have grown tired of the complexity of being a clinician.
I have gotten quite a few emails from physicians who have burnt out of medicine, dealt with medical board investigations, or lawsuits and so have little desire to return to clinical medicine.
Becoming a physician is expensive and most of us may not be ready to hang up our scientific minds quite yet. There are a few other options for physicians who want to continue serving patients and that’s what this post will be about.
I’ll discuss what it takes to change careers from medicine to:
- registered nursing
- medical assisting
- physical therapy
- speech pathologist
- and a bonus topic: medical experting
Changing Careers Completely
It’s rarely an issue when you’re going from a lower-tier position to a higher-tier one. But the opposite is complicated.
When I applied to the MA program at my local college, the program director voiced concern over my MD degree. He felt that it would make it intimidating for other students and might even create problems for me on rotations.
You can give up your medical license which would be the best way to go about practicing something like nursing or physical therapy. This should not only protect you but also prevent any issues with the medical board.
1. Registered Nurse
Doctors and nurses have a very interesting relationship. But we can’t deny that the some nurses are incredibly effective at what they do. They make some of the craziest urgent cares and ER’s run like a Rolex.
It isn’t hard for a physician to switch their mindset to nursing. There are quite a few of such examples, foreign physicians who come to the States to practice nursing.
And if clinical nursing isn’t your jam, there are a lot of administrative options for someone who holds an RN license. The admin RN’s can easily earn $65k a year while the clinical RN’s can pull in a little north of $100k/year.
The process of obtaining your RN license in the US is very straightforward. You can enroll in a BSN program where you get your bachelors in nursing or you can do an associate degree in nursing (ADN).
For physicians who already meet most of the requirements, you’d sit down with the counselor at your chosen BSN program and see which of your previous credits will be accepted.
In order to get your RN license you need to take and pass the NCLEX.
It has up to 265 questions and you have 6 hours to complete it. There are a ton of used books out there and online courses you can utilize to prepare you for this test.
You don’t have to become an RN in the US. If you are adventurous you can go to the UK or another country where you can learn the language easily and get your nursing degree there.
2. Medical Assistant
I have written about becoming a certified medical assistant in the past so I won’t spend much time on it here.
I mention medical assisting because any physician can get a job as a medical assistant even without ever having taken a medical assistant training course. Of course, you won’t be a certified medical assistant but plenty of places will hire you without a certified medical assistant license.
It’s hard to say what your earning potential will be. I’m sure a private medical practice will appreciate your vast knowledge in medicine with your previous MD/DO degree. Otherwise, expect a $45k/year income working full-time as an MA.
3. Physical Therapist
There are physical therapists (PT) and physical therapy assistants (PTA). I’ll be focusing on the PT career path in this post.
PT’s seem to clear around $90k a year.
You can get a master’s or doctorate in physical therapy though it seems that the doctorate level is the way to go – often referred to as the DPT.
It usually takes 3 years to finish your DPT. You may have to take a GRE exam in order to gain admission into such programs.
Most states will require you to pass the NPTE in order to get licensed.
You can even get a board certification in various specialties such as cardiovascular therapy or sports therapy.
For these, you may have to do a clinical fellowship or a residency. These are often one year in length.
I am referring to becoming a registered dietician and not a nutritionist. The latter isn’t regulated and in some states, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist.
But a registered dietician (RD) is recognized damn near anywhere you go. The income is somewhere in the $60k range though it can be higher if you have your own private practice.
Diet advice should be quite easy to dish out for most primary care physicians which makes dietetics a great option for a career change in medicine.
You need at least 1200 hours of internship which usually takes 6-12 months to complete in order to work as a dietician.
These internship programs are competitive but it shouldn’t be hard for a physician to get an upper hand when applying.
After your complete the 1200 hours then you can sit for the exam which is administered by the CDR (Commission on Dietetic Registration).
5. Medical Expert
You won’t find a degree or licensure in becoming a medical expert but I wanted to mention it for those with an entrepreneurial edge.
In fact, you don’t need any training to become a medical expert. Anyone can call themselves a medical expert and charge money to consult with those seeking such a service.
You are still held to certain legal standards which falls under Errors & Omissions. If your advice causes harm to your client then you can be sued. It would be a good idea to have E&O insurance for this reason.
The tough part of becoming a medical expert as a physician is that you must be careful not to inadvertently practice medicine or give medical advice which could be interpreted as the practice of medicine.
You can also be a medical expert while using your active medical license which I’ve addressed in a separate post – let’s call that clinical consulting because it’s a similar beast.
The income opportunity here is focusing on a particular patient population such as:
- those who need to lose weight
- patients with mobility issues
- those with dementia
- chronic pain patients
- those who are longevity fetichists
It doesn’t matter if you are a pharmacist, surgeon, PA, or RN. You can call yourself a medical expert as long as you take care not to overstep your bounds.
Changing careers in medicine, therefore, doesn’t just have to be something that’s regulated and mainstream such as nursing. You can open up shop and pursue a health coaching/health expert track.
6. Speech Pathologist
This is all about helping patients with communication and swallowing and other things we take for granted. Some of the happiest patients I’ve had have been speech pathologists.
I recently was forwarded a great link to discover more about this career. This is a wonderful resource for any physician who wants to switch careers.
They also list great resources for online SLP programs which would be something I’d be more interested in during these times (2021),