Interview with Dr. Jonathan Vitale – 345

In today's episode, we present Dr. Jonathan Vitale's inspirational masterclass on securing your first utilization management job from the 2023 Nonclinical Career Summit.

Dr. Vitale shares his journey, emphasizing the appeal of UM's remote nature, stable hours, and reduced stress compared to traditional clinical practice.

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Dr. Jonathan Vitale's First Utilization Management Job

Dr. Vitale shares his journey from traditional family medicine to becoming a manager of utilization management physicians, highlighting the pivotal moments in this nonclinical career path. He discusses how his early exposure to utilization management, driven by family experiences with insurance rejections, sparked his curiosity and ultimately guided his transition from clinical practice to a leadership role in UM.

Through anecdotes and reflections on his career trajectory, Dr. Vitale provides a compelling narrative that inspires physicians to explore alternative paths.

Navigating Utilization Management: Roles, Compensation, and Application Process

Delving into utilization management (UM) careers, Jonathan provides a comprehensive overview of its definition, functions, and significance within healthcare organizations. He lists the primary goals of UM, emphasizing its role in ensuring the appropriateness, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of healthcare services while minimizing potential harm to patients.

By delineating the three main categories of UM companies and elucidating the key responsibilities associated with each, Dr. Vitale equips aspiring UM professionals with a foundational understanding essential for navigating this dynamic field.

Jonathan's Advice on Overcoming Fear of Rejection

Apply, apply, apply. The clients that I work with, one of the biggest hurdles we have to get over is they fear rejection so much. I say, ‘My gosh, I was rejected hundreds of times. I didn't even get to rejected status. I was just ghosted. My application would just go into the big dark oasis and nothing ever happened.' And I just got over it. And after a while I started celebrating rejections because every rejection is one step closer to an acceptance.


In his insightful discussion, Dr. Jonathan Vitale shared his journey from family medicine to managing UM physicians, highlighting the appeal of remote work, balanced hours, and reduced stress in UM roles. Dr. Vitale also offered practical advice on gaining UM experience, building CVs, and navigating the application process.

You can contact him through his email, or check his website He also encouraged joining the supportive community of Remote Careers for Physicians on Facebook.

NOTE: Look below for a transcript of today's episode. 

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Transcription PNC Podcast Episode 345

How to Secure Your First Utilization Management Job

- Presentation by Dr. Jonathan Vitale

Dr. Jonathan Vitale: I'm going to talk about myself a little bit and how I got to what I do today, and then I'm going to talk about what is UM or utilization management. I'll talk about the types of UM, the day-to-day of a UM doctor, then the compensation, which everybody is very interested in, the application process, how to get experience so that you can apply, how to build your CV, how to get appropriate coaching if you need that. And then I'm happy to answer any questions.

Again, I'm Dr. Jonathan Vitale. I am a board certified family physician. I had a pretty traditional journey to being a family physician, and today I'm a manager of utilization management physicians at one of the top health insurance companies in the country.

I'll tell you a little bit about my journey and how I got there. I had a pretty typical path to becoming a family doctor, except I picked up a master's in counseling before medical school. And after medical school I did residency in Chicago and family medicine, and then I moved to New York City where I live now for my first attending job at kind of a concierge clinic that I thought I would enjoy because I really did not like the traditional doctor's schedule, the traditional working nights and weekends, working a lot.

And after doing that for really just a few years, I decided that I needed to transition. I was very fortunate and one of the very fortunate people to have heard about UM very early on. I actually knew about it when I was in high school because my brother has type one diabetes, and my parents would always be getting rejections from the insurance companies. And I always wondered why, and I would ask my mother, and she would tell me that they had doctors working at insurance companies making decisions.

I'm one of the very lucky people who knew about UM, and was intrigued by it very early on, although that's probably only about 1% of UM docs who knew what it was before they became burnt out.

But another thing I wanted to say is welcome to everybody to this amazing community. The community of nonclinical, or as I call us non-traditional physicians. It is a very, very warm community. It's a very welcoming community, and it's a community of people who really want to help you transition into a job that you love.

What I've kind of came to the realization of early in my medical career was that doctors in general, from day one of saying you're a pre-med, day one of deciding your pre-med, you are overworked, you are underappreciated, you are underpaid. And that continues for the 10 or 15 years it takes you from day one of pre-med to becoming an attending. And I think that what happens is a lot of people just become very used to being treated that way. That's why so many doctors do so much extra work for free. Name another profession where you work extra hours and aren't paid for it, or you're doing your charts at night, not paid for it, or on weekends not paid for it or taking call nights and weekends, not paid for it.

And I never understood that, and it always bothered me immensely because I think physicians are amazing. We have so much to offer and we should be fairly compensated and respected for that. And that was one of the things that got me into wanting to transition. And also my background as a counselor is really what got me interested in and after I got there coaching other physicians on how they too can get there.

What I do today in addition to my utilization management job is I also coach physicians. Specifically I help people get remote careers, mostly in UM, but I do know about other fields as well. You can always reach me at or email me at, or please, as John mentioned, join our Facebook group of Remote Careers for Physicians, which is a wonderful community of physicians helping out physicians who are interested in remote careers.

I always joke that I was into remote careers before being in a remote career was cool. I started that remote careers Facebook group in 2018, and since the pandemic, it's exploded. Nowadays everybody wants a remote career, it seems like, and I think it's as best of a time as any to transition into this field. But I'm especially going to be talking about tonight utilization management.

So, what is utilization management? It's also called utilization review. But for tonight, we're going to call it UM or utilization management. The best definition I could find is it's a systematic approach used by healthcare organizations, insurance companies, and other stakeholders to evaluate and manage the appropriateness, efficiency and cost effectiveness of healthcare services.

The primary goal of UM is to ensure that patients receive the right care at the right time in the right setting, while minimizing unnecessary treatment costs and potential harm. Another way I think about it is we reduce fraud, waste, and abuse. Probably mostly waste. Probably 80% of what we deal with are waste, wasteful orders, or wasteful requests, et cetera, which we'll talk more about later.

There's really three main buckets of UM companies, and I always like to be very general about how I describe this. And then we'll move down into some specifics. There's private UM companies. These are those third party companies that I always talk about, which are good companies to try to get experience with. Those are superfluous. Many of them are listed in, which we'll talk about later. Then there's healthcare systems or hospital systems, which also hire UM nurses and UM doctors.

And then probably the most common for full-time docs would be insurance companies. Insurance companies also hire their own UM nurses, their own UM doctors, their own UM physical therapists, pharmacists, et cetera. And these are the big names you've all heard of. This is your Aetnas, your Humanas, your Uniteds, your Anthems, your Kaisers. They all hire their own UM clinicians to work for them.

And what you do in UM is usually one of three things. There's prior authorizations. Everybody has heard about a prior auth. Everybody knows what a prior auth is. There's certainly a lot of attention in the news nowadays around prior auths and reducing the paperwork associated with prior authorizations. But there's a lot of UM that goes along with that.

A physician orders a test, a study, a medication, a home health service, which I'm involved with. And the prior auth physician determines whether or not that meets certain criteria, and most importantly, whether or not it is medically necessary. That's prior auth. And there's also concurrent reviews. This is very common in the hospital setting. When we're talking about bed days and how long a patient can stay in a hospital, how is this patient doing day to day? They're checking in to see if they can extend and give them more days or if they're suitable to go home or go to rehab or go to a different level of care. That's called concurrent reviews.

And then the final one is probably the smallest, and those are retrospective reviews. Those are done when the service has already been provided, already been rendered, and now they're reviewing it on the backend to see if it was medically necessary and if it fit the guidelines.

The reason why a lot of people go into UM is really primarily I would say what attracts people is the lifestyle, meaning it's typically remote. It's typically 40 hours a week when you're in a full-time gig. It's a typically salaried position. Typically, not always. Also, you have very low liability. Basically, you're not practicing medicine. You don't need malpractice insurance, you carry errors in emissions insurance. It's interesting work. It's a very comfortable pace and you're not patient facing. It's a much lower, lower stress job. And you have typically, generally speaking, nights and weekends off and holidays off.

In terms of compensation, and this is a very hot topic. I'm asked this all the time. There's really not good national average data. I will tell you what I see because I look at hundreds of positions for UM all the time. And I would say there's a very big range. I'm sorry I can't be more specific, but generally if you're a full-time UM physician and you're in one of the primary care areas, you're typically talking about the lower to mid $200,000 range as a W2 base salary. I've seen it all the way up to $300,000, maybe a little bit more for people like an oncologist or people with very, very high demand skills.

But keep in mind, in addition to that, first of all, that's 40 hours a week, but in addition to that base salary, we're also talking about merit increases, which typically happen every year on the order of usually around 2% to 3%, but it can be more than that. In addition to that, you're talking about quarterly or annual bonuses, and you're also talking about usually a stock gift if you work at a large insurance company as I do.

There's a lot of additional compensation that's also very attractive. So, always keep that in mind. I always like people to keep that in mind when they're saying, "Hey, but I make all so much more money than that." I say, "Yeah, but you probably work 80 hours a week and are a hundred times more stressed." So, keep that in mind.

Some other things I wanted to talk about is basically the process of what your typical day looks like when you're doing most UM. And I'm going to talk about full-time jobs, and then we'll talk about the gigs. The full-time jobs, which are kind of the cream of the crop of UM, which are those very, very highly desired 40 hour a week full-time jobs, which are very competitive, is you typically have a set number of cases that you're reviewing per day. You're not chained to your desk. It's not like it is in most clinical practices where every second of your time is scheduled and monitored and you need to be patient facing in order to bill. No, you typically have a set number of cases that you're attempting to get through. Sometimes there's peer-to-peers involved as well. And sometimes you have a few meetings and things like that when you're at the basic medical director level. Medical director is entry level for utilization management.

And then there are also opportunities to grow, kind of like Marie was talking about at MSL. There's some opportunities to grow into more of a team lead and manage a team. And then there's opportunities for being a manager and managing a larger team, which that's what I do. I manage a large team of UM physicians and I also hire them and interview them.

And then there is also the opportunity to branch out into other fields in health insurance companies, which other people are talking about in their lectures tonight. I won't get too much into that.

Something I do want to talk about is some of the other gigs in utilization management. There are small companies, usually these third party companies that exist and they do certain reviews. They may be doing reviews for a certain procedure, they may be doing reviews for a certain medication. And what they'll do is they'll have a panel of doctors of 1099 or independent contractor physicians who they will reach out to and say, "Hey, we have this request for this medication. Can you review it for us? And we'll pay you X number of dollars." It's usually very low, by the way. It's usually like $20, $30. And those companies exist and they are superfluous.

And a lot of physicians look at that and say, "I'm not doing that." And I say, "You don't understand. You have to do that. You do that to get experience. You don't do that to make money. You do it as a side gig while you're still in your other clinical job so that you can get some experience under your belt in doing UM so that you can put that on your CV." And that's why you do those roles for six to 12 months so that you can actually have some experience to talk about when you apply for those big full-time positions.

Now, how do you get these gigs? It's pretty simple. I talk about it all the time on Remote Careers. You just go to, the National Association of Independent Review Organization. You click on members, again, you don't become a member, you click on members and you scroll all the way down and it lists the logos of 20 or 30 of these companies.

You go to every one of those individual company websites and you navigate the website and you click on apply to be on the physician panel, and you submit your CV to every one of them. And I guarantee you, at least two or three of them will contact you within the week and put you on their panel. And that means you are now getting UM experience. That's a great way to get you UM experience. Yes, it does take a lot of time to sign up for all of them. I never said it would be easy. And it's a great way to get your first step in the door.

I always say this. My specialty is helping doctors who have no other experience, no outside experience. Normal, average doctors. I guess no doctor is average. We're all awesome. But I would say regular doctors into the world of UM who have no prior or outside experience. No connections, nothing else. That's what I help people to do because that's how I got involved.

After you have that, the next thing that you need to do after you've done that for six or 12 months, that's when you're able to actually apply to these full-time UM gigs that most people want. Like every other non-traditional job, especially nowadays, it is very competitive. However, what I can say, and I think this is really, really important, that it's not that it's super, super competitive, which it is, but it's more so the fact that doctors are used to it being ridiculously easy to get a job. If you're a regular traditional outpatient family doctor, been working at your clinic for 10 years, and now you want to move to a different city next week, and you want a job there, all you have to do is send out an email with your CV to a couple people, and you'll probably get a hundred job offers the same week.

That's how it is for clinical doctors. We're very spoiled. But that is not how it is when you make the transition. And that's something that you really have to psychologically get behind and understand that for many people it's going to take a year, sometimes two years, to actually make that transition to get enough applications in to get rejected enough. As you always hear me on Facebook, for those who follow me, I always say to people, you haven't been rejected enough yet. That's your main problem. It takes a lot of rejection, a lot of getting ghosted before you get your position. But you will get there. Don't worry, you will get there. It's just a process.

The thing that you also want to do is you want to work on your CV, and there's lots of coaches to help you with this. I'm one of them, but there's certainly many other coaches who can help you with this, many of whom you're hearing about these past three nights. And you also want to work very hard on your interview skills, and coaches can help you with that. I can certainly help as can all the other coaches.

And what you want to do is you want to make it your job to every day apply and send in your CV to openings for utilization management. These are typically listed. I like to keep things simple. They're typically listed on Indeed, on LinkedIn and also on the private insurance company's websites.

What I encourage people to do who are interested in a life of UM is every single day, it only probably takes about an hour out of your day, you want to be visiting every one of those websites, and you want to be searching, you want to save this in search, you want to be searching for medical director utilization review, utilization management, utilization review, physician, physician reviewer, MD reviewer. All those synonymous terms that a lot of companies use. And then you want to be looking for those positions and you want to be submitting your CV.

Yes, absolutely. Networking is great. If you can do that, if you have any contacts, if you network through LinkedIn, if you network through one of these conferences through a SEEK conference for anything like that, that's wonderful. But what I can tell you is that in the UM world, things move very quickly and that works both in your favor and against your favor.

Let me be more specific about timing. I always talk about when I first got into UM about how I applied for a year and got rejected probably over a thousand times. At least hundreds and hundreds of times I was rejected or ghosted. And what I've learned now that I'm a hiring manager for UM is that timing is everything.

Let me be more specific on that. Many times these UM companies, especially the insurance companies, which are the largest employer of UM docs, are always trying to get more business. They're always trying to get more contracts. They're always trying to expand their geography. They're always trying to do UM for another network, for another geographic location. They have business folks who that's all they do is try to broaden their business.

And as you guys know, anybody who's worked in business, business is a tough field. Things move very fast and sometimes very unexpected. You can literally be at a job or I can literally be in a position and I can literally hear one day, "Hey, you know what? We finally got that contract we've been after for eight months or 12 months. Now we have a need for five other doctors on your team, as we call them FTEs, full-time equivalents, five FTEs on your team. And you need to get them up and trained and ready to go as soon as humanly possible because we're going to start getting UM cases from that network in three months. And we got to be ready to go."

This is the kind of thing that happens. So, what am I doing? We're posting it on our website. And the first good CV I get who is board certified, who's got some decent experience, I am scheduling them for an interview. But let me tell you what though. That same candidate, if they applied two weeks before, they probably would've gotten either ghosted or rejected. Again, I don't write the rules, ladies and gentlemen, I'm just telling you what they are.

The HR oasis for these big companies is don't assume that they're going to put your CV on hold. Don't assume that every job listed currently is available. That's another one. Don't assume that you're going to even hear back. That's why my best advice is it's a numbers game. When the new positions come up, is why you have to be checking every single day. You need to be applying for that new position, because that happens all the time in UM. And which is good news for people like us, because it means there are definitely jobs that open up and that need good folks.

But the flip side of that though is let's say that you have 20 years of UM experience, 20 years of clinical experience, and you're the most competent UM doc in the world, and you reach out to me and send me your CV today. I'd say "I can't do anything with this but thank you." Because we don't have any openings, I'd say just keep monitoring our website. That's how it works at a lot of the large health insurance companies. Yes, there's other things that happen at smaller companies where they may keep things on hold, but I'm just telling you how it works at the large health insurance companies. That's why I always say to people, and you see me say this on Facebook and everywhere else. Apply, apply, apply.

The clients that I work with, one of the biggest hurdles we have to get over is they fear rejection so much. I say, "My gosh, I was rejected hundreds of times. I didn't even get to rejected status. I was just ghosted. My application would just go into the big dark oasis and nothing ever happened." And I just got over it. And after a while I started celebrating rejections because every rejection is one step closer to an acceptance. And these jobs, especially UM jobs, as Marie was talking about MSL jobs, they're very competitive. There's more docs than ever that are looking to make a transition. The other thing is doctors are looking to make a transition earlier and earlier in their careers.

My team, I would say on a whole, at this point, we have about 25 docs on my team. And we are all stages of our career. There's people who are in their early career, mid-career, late career. There's people who are post-retirement who just do this for fun. If that tells you anything about the job as well.

So, it is difficult to get a position, but it's definitely not impossible. It just takes persistence and there's so many people who are there to help you.


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