As a physician or advanced practice provider, you’re a healer by nature, and you’re knowledgeable about providing medical care. But have you ever thought about combining medicine with other jobs?
From being a physician academic to a physician astronaut, your options for applying medical skills in nontraditional settings are far from limited – that is if you’re willing to take a few steps outside your comfort zone.
Get inspired to start exploring your potential with creative career paths other physicians have taken.
Tap into your academic strengths
“Making a difference in the world” is what drives many physicians to practice medicine. It also seems to be a major motivation for physicians who seek to step up as industry leaders and guide others toward good health.
Physician medical writers, for instance, bring their health care knowledge and communication skills together to educate and inform the public about important medical topics.
As a successful writer and contributor with countless publications and columns in the New York Times syndicate and Oprah’s O Magazine, Dr. David Katz says his fulfillment comes from the opportunity to have a positive impact on the masses.
CME content writing
CME content writers might gain a similar sense of purpose from developing textbooks, online text and reference materials to guide and educate other physicians. That’s the case for practitioners like Dr. Yasmine S. Ali, who says the most gratifying aspect of creating CME content is the “chance to help physicians be their best.”
Meanwhile, physicians interested in research might be inspired by the opportunity to pursue new advancements in medicine that open doors to better treatments, diagnoses and care. Not surprisingly, it can also be what’s most rewarding.
Explore the business frontier with an MBA
For business-minded practitioners, getting an MBA isn’t an uncommon route to level up professionally. In fact, going back to school can be an extremely worthwhile investment for those looking to start a private practice, or simply to advance into leadership roles within an organization.
“This is especially true if you’re promoted to a role that requires advanced leadership or negotiating skills, such as heading up a department,” says Gregg Bass, Communication and Marketing Specialist at Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business.
Continuing education is a commitment, and it’s important to consider factors like time, cost, support from your employer and – most importantly – what you want to get out of the additional degree.
That’s why talking to a mentor about next steps can be extremely beneficial if you’re weighing your options, according to Mark Deshur, M.D., MBA. “I’ve been very fortunate to have several mentors I’ve leaned heavily on,” says Dr. Deshur.
“Even though my career trajectory was different than theirs, they helped me take a step back and think about what my strengths and weaknesses are and what am I interested in.”
Be the physician on a mission
Medical missions won’t be the right career path for every physician or APP, but for those eager to make a difference in underserved communities, it’s a chance to thrive in your role and support those who are lacking health care resources or experiencing a humanitarian crisis.
As a physician who’s served on multiple physician medical missions with the Syrian American Medical Society, Wael Hakmeh, D.O., discusses the challenges of providing care with limited resources in these areas. However, he finds the difficulties of the job are worth the differences made in each community.
“Medical mission work,” he explains, “gives the chance to practice medicine for the reasons that many of us went into medicine: to help those who need it the most.”
Go for government opportunities
For providers seeking a structured and disciplined environment, but also the thrill of an ever-evolving role, government positions can hold a lot of promise. Some roles may be more adrenaline inducing or buttoned up than others, but serving to improve and protect the lives of citizens can absolutely contribute to a sense of authority and purpose in your work.
Practicing for the military
One option is serving as a military physician like Lt. Col. Samuel Munro. Although deployment isn’t easy for any provider, he says there are no regrets about his time in Qatar as part of the U.S. Air Force.
“I enjoyed the experience,” Lt. Col. Munro shares. “I got to see some things I would have never seen, do some medicine I never would have been able to do, like deployment medicine and travel medicine.”
Joining the SWAT team
Another action-packed career option that may be less discussed for providers is that of a SWAT team physician, which presents opportunities to offer medical insights during high-stress operations and ensure the well-being of both officers and suspects.
Finally, within the political sector, providers knowledgeable about legislation related to health care may have opportunities to channel their passion and expertise into being an advocate for certain acts or policies that will positively benefit the industry and its members.
As a practicing physician and Kentucky State Senator, Ralph Alvarado, M.D., says, “Bettering health outcomes is what matters, but it is satisfying to get wins along the way. Then, after a legislative session, come back home, practice medicine, see patients, and talk with colleagues. It feels like I’m back home having delivered a win for the home team. I do it for the practice of medicine. That’s what it’s all about.”
See the world and serve
If exploring new cities and cultures is a passion of yours, there are countless exciting career options that allow you to treat your travel bug while you treat patients.
Practicing on a ship
One opportunity you may not have considered is the unique role of a cruise ship physician. Practicing on a ship is a chance to work with crew members and patients around the world, but days off can be spent sailing the high seas and exploring port destinations in thrilling new locations.
Practicing in nature
For adventure seekers and lovers of the great outdoors, wilderness medicine is a physician career path that involves responding to emergencies in national parks or other remote areas and participating alongside travel groups.
Taking your medical skills abroad is another way to unleash your inner explorer as you visit new countries, immerse yourself in other cultures and contribute to public health initiatives in underserved areas around the globe.
Dr. Steve Caldwell, a seasoned emergency medicine travel physician, describes his experience practicing outside the U.S. fondly, and says, “It reminded me of why I went into medicine in the first place. I think it both enriched and prolonged my career.”
Chase your own title
If none of the above career paths seem to line up with your interests, rest assured, there are endless possibilities for endless physician personalities.
For instance, Dr. David Wolf was fascinated by outer space and opportunities to apply medical expertise to space missions. He was initially selected by NASA for his skills in biomedical engineering but, four missions later is now a physician spacewalk specialist, coaching other astronauts through the physiological effects of outer space on the body.
“My background allowed me to walk all those boundaries from medicine to engineering, which was very satisfying,” he says.
A more manageable sense of action can be achieved by pursuing other exciting roles, such as those within sports medicine. Whether you want to be the on-call physician for a high school or college sports team, or take your expertise to the pros, you can attend games and practices and play a crucial role in delivering care to athletes.
Physician Life Care Planner
Or, if you’re more interested in working one on one with individuals compared to an entire team, being a physician life care planner is an even more relaxed option.
This involves assessing and projecting long-term medical needs and costs for those with complex medical conditions or injuries, which can offer a strong sense of purpose as you build close relationships with patients and guide them through medical and financial considerations related to their condition or treatments.
What to consider next
All the hard work you’ve done to become a physician has been worth it. And, if you’re intentional, the same will be true about any effort you make to take your career to its most thrilling and fulfilling level yet.
The good news is your professional options aren’t limited to your current circumstances, qualifications or experience. Exploring new or niche career avenues can feel intimidating at first, but for as many physician personalities that exist, there are an equal number of unique career paths waiting on the horizon.