I was told by my good friend that I’m running away from something if I never stay put in one place. I haven’t yet figured out what I’m running away from or what I’m running towards. But being a nomad doctor is becoming a more and more enticing idea. Not feeling tied down or committed to any one place and being able to create a unique experience for me as a doctor in different places.
It’s not easy to work in different countries as a physician with a US medical license. There is little reciprocity so you’ll have to jump through quite a few hoops to piece together an international career.
If you only speak English your choices will be limited. But if you can learn a couple of other languages you’ll greatly improve your chances.
But I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary. I did my residency in a clinic in LA where most of my patients spoke Spanish. I spoke zero Spanish. My nurses translated for me and it worked out fine.
Traveling & Working
There are 2 forms of long-term travel, one in which you work and the other where you’re living off of your savings. Both have their advantages.
I can always work in WA or CA where I have state medical licenses for a few months and live off of those savings in another country.
The downside with this plan is I won’t really integrate into the culture. And learning the language will be a bit hindered as well unless you are highly motivated.
I prefer the idea of working in a clinic when I’m living abroad. I don’t necessarily think that I will need a medical license in that country in order for this concept to work.
Practicing in Iran
I was born in Iran and I speak Farsi. Currently, I’m in the process of getting my passport so that I can travel to Iran and see what living there is like.
It wouldn’t be hard for me to get my medical license there and practice. In fact, my friends there tell me that their income is quite a bit higher than the average physician here in the US.
Obviously, I’m not doing it just for the money. If nothing else, applying for my medical license in Iran would help me learn what the bureaucracy is like there. I would certainly meet some people and make some good connections.
Buying a Clinic Abroad
The reason I started with Iran is that it’s probably the most unreachable country for many of us to imagine practicing medicine in.
What about the Philippines or Vietnam or Mexico or Spain? Can I be a nomad doctor there without having to spend the next 5 years buried in an application process?
A friend of mine bought a restaurant in Spain not too long ago. She’s American but has the mentality that a business is a business no matter what country you’re in.
I’ve been trying to get my medical license in Spain for the past few years. I’m currently in the language learning stage and have already secured my visa. But it’s tedious.
I could have shortcut the process by getting an entrepreneurial visa for Spain and buying an urgent care or family medicine clinic.
Physicians aren’t paid too much abroad so for less than 2,000 euros per month I can hire a physician who will see the patients. But we’ll be seeing the patients together and their care will be under my guidance.
There are plenty of expats and wealthy citizens who would be interested in having a US physician.
International Nomad Doctor
It’s also important to take into account the need for physicians in many countries. Here in the US we are in desperate need of physicians in certain parts of the country but without that state medical license, I wouldn’t be able to practice there.
That’s now how it works in other parts of the world. There are autonomous regions, such as in Mexico, where they can give me permission to practice locally as a physician even without a state medical license.
Other countries or locales might be persuaded if you are traveling as a physician couple. I’m a family medicine doctor and my partner is a rheumatologist. Imagine settling somewhere with government sponsorship and treating those patients there and training the nurses and doctors to take care of them.
The telemedicine option is the more obvious route to becoming a nomad doctor. You are still seeing patients in your home country virtually but you’re living abroad.
The rules are changing quickly and too often for this to be sustainable. One day CMS doesn’t allow you to live outside of the US and another day Bluecross won’t let you live in TX patients in AZ unless you also have an AZ license.
If you are going to do make this your encore career or make it your current source of income then you have to build your own brand as a nomad doctor.
Starting your own telemedicine practice seems daunting but if you can focus on a particular niche it’s much easier than you think. And the more of a niche you can find the easier it will be to market to those patients.
Cost of Living Abroad
I am currently in an Airbnb in LA paying $3,000 to a person who is renting it herself from the landlord for $1,800. The tenant is making good money off me and the landlord is having a steady income.
Since you are a US physician you likely are making good money here. Unlike the US you can find very safe neighborhoods in many major cities abroad where you can live rather inexpensively.
With some savings, you can have enough cash cushion to get you started abroad. Whether you choose to start your own telemedicine brand or purchase a clinic overseas or get a provisional medical license.
I also find that as a nomad doctor your lifestyle tends to be more relaxing when living abroad. This often allows me to make more creative decisions whether career-wise or in general.