A nonclinical physician is a medical school graduate who has chosen a career that does not involve direct patient care. Some do so right after medical, while others obtain residency training and board certification, then practice medicine before eventually moving into the nonclinical arena. Most of these careers require a medical education and knowledge of healthcare, but in a different way than clinical medicine does.

There are several advantages to working nonclinically:

  • It is less intense and stressful
  • There is much less risk of being sued
  • There is usually no need to be on-call
  • Much less time is spent on paperwork
  • There is no need to make life and death decisions on a daily basis.

Some of the jobs that nonclinical physicians do include:

  1. Physician advisor for utilization management
  2. Medical director for quality improvement, informatics, or clinical documentation improvement
  3. Expert witness
  4. Teaching
  5. Medical writing
  6. Medical director for a pharmaceutical company;
  7. Medical consulting; and,
  8. Starting your own healthcare business.

Although not obvious, there are many nonclinical physicians around us every day.

Those are the medical school graduates and board-certified physicians who are deciding whether:

  • the care of another physician is appropriate
  • physicians are documenting their activities appropriately
  • a malpractice suit is legitimate or not
  • a researcher is following appropriate protocols during a research study.

Nonclinical physicians in medical communications are helping to develop effective advertisements for drug and device companies. They are preparing written, audio and video content used for the
continuing medical education of other physicians. Other nonclinical physicians, as consultants, are traveling from town to town teaching hospitals and health systems how to implement important new systems of care, or how to use electronic medical records appropriately.

Ironically, many physicians do not realize that there are thousands of nonclinical jobs waiting to be filled. These are jobs that can ONLY be done by experienced doctors. So, rather than being a poor replacement for clinical care, these are careers that are built upon the vast knowledge and skills that nonclinical physicians have already acquired. And it is by adding new knowledge about finance, management, communication, healthcare law and leadership to existing medical knowledge that these physicians can accomplish what less qualified professionals simply cannot do.
There are times when nonclinical physicians long to provide direct patient care again. But that desire is usually short-lived, because they realize that their new nonclinical challenges are often more critical to patient health than their work as a practicing physician.

Such nonclinical physicians are critically important for:

  1. implementing population health initiatives
  2. designing functional health information systems
  3. analyzing and addressing public health crises
  4. creating systems to address epidemics and pandemics
  5. designing quality improvement initiatives to lower mortality and complications in hospitals
  6. translating financial and business concepts for their clinical peers

Following their transition to a nonclinical career, most such physicians find that their life is more satisfying and balanced. Following a period of introspection, they intentionally design careers that they love, allowing them to work in their “Zone of Genius.” Under ideal circumstances, they keep what they liked about their previous clinical career, while eliminating the parts they did not like.
In recent decades, we have seen an explosion in the number and type of nonclinical physicians. Many have taken leadership positions in government, pharmaceutical companies, health insurers, and health systems. The need for physicians trained in fields outside of medicine has never been greater. And nonclinical physicians will take an ever-greater role in designing and leading healthcare for years to come.