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Alternative careers for doctors

Updated: Sep 23, 2023

With a third of UK medical students planning an early exit from the NHS either to practice abroad or abandon medicine altogether, many students are considering other options for their MBBS degree to be put to good use.


The UK has the lowest number of doctors per head among European countries - 3.2 doctors for every 1000 people. To try and address the "critical workforce shortage" faced by the NHS, the NHS's Long Term Workforce Plan pledged that the number of places in medical schools would rise from 7500 to 10,000 by 2028, and could reach 15,000 by 2031. However, unsurprisingly, the findings of a study published in BMJ Open, suggested the career plans of many of today's medical students could undermine the Government's ambition of having more doctors working in the NHS.


Medical students in the UK have a wealth of career options beyond working within the NHS and may choose a different path for various reasons, including personal preferences, lifestyle choices, financial incentives, or career ambitions.


So, as someone who is often seeking out-of-the-ordinary opportunities, what better time to release this blog post to educate ourselves on the other careers out there?

Transitioning from being a doctor to a lawyer / having a medico-legal career

Contrary to popular belief, just because you have done a medical degree, does not mean you can harness the skills and knowledge you gained to pivot into another professional/specialised career. The only obstacle that may be in your way is an extra degree or qualification.


More medics than you'd probably expect, go on to complete a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) to further transition into corporate law as a solicitor. However, recently (from 2021) the path to becoming a solicitor has become even more standardised, making it even more attractive to non-law graduates. There will be no need to do the GDL to 'convert' your degree as long as you pass x2 exams called the Solicitors Qualifying Exams (SQEs) and acquire a minimum of 2 years full-time (or equivalent) qualifying work experience. This is a hugely attractive feature of the SQE because in essence, you can start to accumulate any appropriate legal experience you gain either during medical school, on a gap year/F3, or as a doctor in any capacity.

Examples include time spent:

  • On a placement at a law firm

  • Working in a legal clinic

  • At a voluntary or charitable organisation such as a Citizen Advice Bureau or law clinic

  • Working as a paralegal

  • Training contract

So if you're really keen, you could try and bag yourself a couple of summer corporate internships whilst in medical school. As a doctor, you'd need to still be accumulating up to 2 years of experience in the legal field so it requires dedication and a lot of competitive applications (with law students). The medico-legal path can be particularly attractive for those interested in medical law or healthcare policy. If you think this may be for you, start early and be very intentional and motivated to relevant gain experience.


Further reading:

Doctor to data scientist

At a time when technology is increasingly becoming a vital part of how healthcare works, gaining skills/qualifications in computer science, (medical) engineering or imaging as well as spending time in industry can vastly broaden the scope of careers you can pursue. It is not necessary but can definitely help.


If in medical school, perhaps consider a computer science-related intercalated degree. As a doctor, consider taking a degree in your F3 year, learning how to code or acquire skills through online courses or boot camps or cold-email/use LinkedIn to gain experience in your industry of interest.


Becoming a healthcare data analyst involves cleaning, coding, and analysing data to derive insights, improve patient outcomes, and inform decision-making for clinicians. Being a qualified doctor means you have a unique perspective and the added insight of how clinically relevant results are as well as what is worth paying attention to.


For what courses to do, basic principles of 'tech/data', and UK doctor stories, read below and perhaps even connect with these doctors for further advice!

Getting an MBA as a doctor - is it worth the hype and does it mean I can be a CEO?

Medical leadership is often talked about but there are lots of different sectors and divisions which makes this term very vague. The very top jobs include:

  • Medical Director - Involves board-level responsibilities; additional skills in operational management; wider system-level leadership skills including multiprofessional stakeholder engagement and strategic planning.

  • CEO of an NHS Trust or other company - The CEO is accountable for the development of the long-term plan, delivering related NHS commissioning and performance arrangements for their entire system and, through this, secure the provision of a comprehensive health service for people in their designated area. They will be accountable for delivering improvements in the quality of patient care, patient safety, health inequality, workforce productivity, and financial health across their Trust.

Other jobs include Chief Information Officer, Director of Partnerships. Impact and Delivery, Director of Transformation & Continuous Quality Improvement and Director of Finance.

Have a browse of some of the jobs, salaries and criteria here.


The MBA

Master of Business Administration (MBA) programmes are not to be undertaken lightly: they are intense and fast paced and a LOT more expensive than other postgraduate qualifications. The MBA is the “gold standard” in management education and is increasingly becoming an entry-level qualification for top jobs like CEO and COO. If you think you want a career like the ones mentioned above, an MBA can revolutionise the way you see things such as challenging the way you work, interact and budget. An MBA is also undoubtedly an impressive addition to any CV and is internationally recognised. It opens up doors for business-related careers in all sectors, as long as it is paired with relevant industry experience. Top jobs are incredibly competitive and unfortunately, doctors rarely accumulate the necessary industry/leadership experience that such jobs are looking for (they're spending all their hours in rigorous training pathways). So keep your eye out for internships - especially in corporate organisations or start-ups where you can get financial and managerial responsibilities.


Further reading:

Academia and teaching - if you want reduce your clinical role as a doctor

Medical students with a passion for teaching and research can embark on an academic career. Clinical academic doctors combine their clinical practice (although this decreases over the years) with teaching and research. An academic clinical career may be for you if you are interested in practising as a doctor but also want to make a difference to the future of medical science and education. The combination of treating patients, conducting research to enhance these treatments, and teaching the next generation of doctors means that clinical academics stay at the forefront of clinical knowledge.


Getting a teaching qualification: Doctors can pursue Postgraduate Certificates (PGCERT) in various fields, such as medical education, public health, or healthcare management. These qualifications can open doors to teaching, research, or management roles.


The most common roles include becoming medical school faculty members such as lecturers, anatomy demonstrators or even the Dean of a medical school. Another option is education consultancy. Doctors may also offer their expertise as consultants to medical schools, healthcare institutions, and educational organisations (including ed tech initiatives), advising on curriculum design, assessment strategies, and educational technology. See my full blog post on an academic medical career here.

Doctors entering the corporate world - management consulting and investment banking

It is easy to think that as a clinician, your skills are only useful in the clinical environment. That's what we're taught! However, the skills and experiences medical professionals possess are invaluable and most importantly, TRANSFERABLE.

Consulting

Most of the job of a doctor is being a 'detective'. You use your interpersonal skills to chat with patients and colleagues, you examine and investigate, you then analyse these results and you risk assess and communicate to the team what to do next. You are probably decent at critical appraisal, you will have done at least one quality improvement project/audit and are definitely able to translate theory into real-world practice. Corporate roles desire all of these skills and qualities. You may just need to bridge the gap by gaining experience in the business world so you can understand the lingo and 'office politics'. Just like you needed to learn the new language of medicine (if you can manage all of those abbreviations and Latin words, you can most certainly get an internship at BCG or Bain).


Doctors tend to be strongest candidates for management consulting in the healthcare field - but that should also not put you off from applying to other departments - just ensure you have the relevant experience and network to help you get there. Healthcare consultants help organisations improve their operations, strategies, and patient care (who knows - maybe YOU could be the person that actually manages to convince the NHS to want to retain its staff).


Dr Vishaal Virani is an example of someone who started his career as an NHS doctor, and subsequently transitioned into healthcare strategy consulting. He worked in strategy consulting for four years, with a particular focus on due diligence for private equity firms, and corporate strategy for hospitals and medical technology companies and now works as the Head of YouTube Health UK, where he is building out the brand new health offering to empower millions of YouTube users and NHS organisations across the UK! You never know where the career make take you!


Further reading:

Investment Banking

Investment banking requires a high level of knowledge about economics and finance - which can be hard for a medical student who probably hasn't touched it in 5+ years. I recommend having a read of the following article on how a final year medical student made the shift: How to Move from Medical School to Investment Banking.


However, make no mistake. This job comes with equally grueling hours and a difficult work environment (which you would have built resistance to in the NHS) and although better pay, your job satisfaction could very well be even lower than it was as a doctor. NEVERTHELESS, it's all about your personal career goals and work preferences. Dr Nicholas Deakin is the Executive Director of Investment Banking at Morgan Stanley and a Medical Doctor. His LinkedIn would be a good place to start for inspiration and he may very well respond to you if contacted. If not, find an analyst or banker in other networks and keep doing so until you get a reply!

'Med tech' and start-ups

The healthcare technology sector offers exciting opportunities for innovation but the reality is: med tech is pointless without a system willing or able to adopt it. A med tech start-up also doesn't need to be the traditional 'curative' tools. Successful 'start-ups'* (*technically they are now scaled, VC-backed amazing businesses) include the medical education surgical simulation 'Proximie' founded by Dr Nadine Hachach-Haram or the monitoring platform 'Suvera' founded by Dr Ivan Beckley which are some of my favourites.


Many medical students and doctors have started or joined med tech companies and I think it's a great way to contribute to the development of cutting-edge healthcare solutions for the current climate. Choose a start-up that you are genuinely passionate about and keen to gain a lot of knowledge from. It could inspire you to start your own or it could show you the realities of what being a founder is and you may stay on at the company and work your way up to director of one of their departments.

Health Journalism, Medical Writing and Social Media

Medical students with strong communication skills can become health journalists, and medical writers or share their knowledge (or their lifestyle) on social media for a pretty penny. Doctors can become medical writers, producing educational materials, textbooks, journal articles, and patient resources. They may also write content for healthcare websites, blogs, or medical communications agencies. In some cases, medics can even write books of their own - several big social media creators such as Dr Ali Abdaal, Dr Hazel Wallace, and Dr Karan Rajan have come out with their own books.


Doctors can also take up advocacy work via social media as well as brand partnerships through lifestyle content (I would be careful doing partnerships that want to sell off of your medical 'expertise'). As always, know the limits of professionalism online just as you would in person. But if you needed a sign to start that Instagram or YouTube, you better do it!

Career/well-being consulting, coaching and public speaking

Due to a non-existent retention strategy within the NHS, there is already an enhanced focus on well-being and alternative careers for doctors and healthcare professionals. The best people to understand what a doctor is going through is another doctor, so I suspect there will be more opportunities for doctors who specialise in supporting other doctors’ well-being or career options (for a paid fee - hopefully by organisations and not individuals).


Niches could include:

  • How can we best support doctors from abroad, those in under-represented or minority groups?

  • How do we support new GPs or consultants, or those that are peri-retirement?

Again, one doctor is best placed to understand another, so I expect there will be more opportunities for doctors to support each other’s careers at each and every stage.


Public speaking on your specialty / area of expertise at events and conferences is also a way to earn a living and meet amazing people. This doesn't require any special degree, just having something important and relevant to say, confidence, and a little experience! Putting yourself out there online will help you get booked.


Medical students in the UK have diverse opportunities to pursue careers that align with their interests, values, and career goals. These alternative paths provide flexibility and a chance to make a meaningful impact outside of traditional NHS roles while still leveraging their medical knowledge and skills.


Pages/resources to follow:

  • Medic Footprints - all about alternative careers for doctors

  • Peerr - resource hub of articles written by professionals in all sectors run by doctors

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Guest
Sep 18, 2023

This is SO good. Bookmarking to come back to, thank you so much

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