What you need to know about exploring non-clinical career options to enhance your chances of success

If you are thinking of finding an alternative non-clinical career, and perhaps leaving clinical medicine, you may be wondering what your options are and exactly how you get into each field. 

This comes up regularly in client conversations and there are any number of reasons doctors may be exploring non-clinical career options: 

  • Some cannot find a specialty that they love enough to want to invest the requisite number of years (and $) in training 
  • Some dislike clinical (face-face) medicine – either it’s not a good personality fit or they feel like their mission and purpose lies elsewhere
  • Some fail to get accepted into a training program (not for skill or effort – but often because places and time are limited and someone must miss out)
  • Some are happy with this for part of their life – but feel the need for alternative activities to provide balance
  • Some want to prioritise family life and/or lifestyle and want something that uses their skills but is more low key
  • Some are unable to gain registration in Australia (required for clinical roles)
  • Some want to leave due to issues with confidence and imposter syndrome, burnout or other workplace issues such as bullying. As an aside, I strongly recommend addressing underlying issues before you look at other careers.  

Assuming there are no underlying issues to be addressed, wanting to use your skills as a doctor in non-clinical areas is common. 

Before even considering the many options you have, it is important to think about the considerable differences between the clinical and on-clinical worlds and what that means for career planning. 

Clinical career development pathways

Medicine as a clinical practice is a regulated industry. This means there is a well defined pathway and criteria to meet for career entry and career progression. 

There are nuances for sure, but for the most part it goes something like med school, junior doctor, entry onto training program, completion of training program and exams, devlop a public or private specialty practice.

So developing a traditional medical career strategy is more akin to using GPS to find your way from point A to point B. 

You type in all the relevant information (your personality, aptitudes, options) and you are presented with a relatively well defined routes – with maybe a couple of options. 

The source of information generally comes from outside of you – and is designed to give you the best chance of getting to where you want to be in the shortest amount of time.  

The non-clinical landscape

When we get to the non-clinical world, things look entirely different. 

The process of exploring non-clinical medicine, is idiosyncratic and different for each of us. Learning how to dance between worlds, and navigate the tension between clinical and non-clinical worlds, is not linear. Every journey and story is different. 

There is no set order or framework to guide growth and development. It’s fluid, flexible and uncertain. Things will evolve and shift – you need to be open to opportunity and change – and you need skills in flexibility, curiosity and managing uncertainty. 

You need courage to just start, even before you know where you are heading. This means letting go of the rules and frameworks that you have relied on until now and being open to taking risks and making mistakes. 

This means taking responsibility for your own growth, and stepping into the unknown with courage and faith in yourself.

This is much more like using an old fashioned paper map to explore a new city. First you need to orient yourself to where you are in the map – then figure out what you might like to see and how you might get there. 

Without satellite data to guide you, you don’t know about traffic holdups, unexpected road closures or one way streets. You might get where you going more slowly, and make many wrong turns. When you lose your way you may need to ask other people, explore where you are, make hidden discoveries. 

This is much more of an exploratory process and means you need to become a lot more aware of your surroundings and the process of the journey to keep on track. You may become aware of possibilities and options that you never would have seen by using GPS. 

Being open to this uncertainty frees you up to recognise possibilities that may never arise if you stick to a single prescribed path. This can be fun and adventurous – but it can also be scary, risky and uncertain. There are no real rules beyond those you make up yourself. No specific qualifications. No College to tell you what to do or how to do it. 

For those of us used to the hierarchy and defined pathways in developing a health care career, this can be really confronting. It requires you to work from principles (rather than rules) and you need to learn how to read a map (not just follow instructions).

Coaching is brilliant for helping you navigate your career in this way. 

What are my options?

The range of non-clinical work options is endless and continually evolving. Although there are some reasonably well defined pathways there are many more individual and creative ways to use your medical degree and earn money – and no list can do it justice.  

Whether you are looking at a relatively standard non-clinical role (eg research or teaching) – or would like to explore further afield, you will need to develop a different approach to career development than you have had until now.

My role as coach is to help you figure out the reasons why you are exploring other careers and address underlying issues such as confidence and imposter syndromeburnout, or something else. For serious workplace issues, legal advice and specialised support may be required. My role is also to help support you in the personal development and mindset changes required for navigating different environments. 

You will need to do some of your own research about options, opportunities and requirements. This active engagement is very helpful (and more life-stage appropriate) for you in finding the right place rather than receiving passive lists of options such as may be given to a high school leaver. 

Beyond Your Stethoscope is a useful resource building up a repository of information with more details about pathways into these options. You may also consider joining Facebook communities such as Non-Cinical Doctors Australia & NZCreative Careers in Medicine and Alternative Careers for Doctors where you can find peers on similar journey about a wide range of options.

For reflection

  • What is exciting for you about this journey?
  • What are you finding hard?
  • What is getting in the way of getting started?
  • What do you think will help you the most in getting started?
  • Are you running away, or moving towards?

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