Making career moves

Physician burnout and the transition to nonclinical careers

In addition to the pandemic, the grueling hours, physical demands and mental challenges of modern medicine have been driving physicians’ exodus from clinical healthcare.


Physicians have been grappling with working conditions that led to high rates of burnout for many years, and the pandemic was, for some burned-out physicians, the final straw that caused them to plan an exit to a nonclinical career.

In addition to the pandemic, the grueling hours, physical demands and mental challenges of modern medicine have been driving physicians’ exodus from clinical healthcare. According to a recent Medscape survey of 2,500 physicians, the pandemic was one of a number of contributing factors to physicians’ decisions to leave their clinical practices. Twenty-two percent of the physicians surveyed said they are considering leaving clinical practice.

How physicians research nonclinical jobs

Physicians are finding nonclinical career opportunities by researching online and speaking with individuals who work in fields they wish to pursue. Many of the physicians looking into a nonclinical career plan to leave their current job position within the next two to three years. The top three nonclinical fields of choice include teaching, business and writing. The writing field has become popular with the advent of social media, and more physicians are interested in applying their skills to writing online blogs and newsletters.

Making the move

Depending on which nonclinical field is under consideration, it is wise to prepare for a two-year transition period if you are looking to switch jobs, suggests Hodon Mohamed, MD, a physician featured in an article about nonclinical work options from the New England Journal of Medicine Career Center. Dr. Mohamed splits her time between clinical and nonclinical work.

There may be training and/or additional education required based on the responsibilities of the new nonclinical job. Physicians may also find it helpful to seek out a mentor in their desired new field, or career counseling, which is widely available. Networking is also key, as the more information a physician gleans about their potential industry of interest and job position, the less likelihood for a career-changing mistake.

A success story

One of my colleagues who works in the insurance industry as a physician reviewer left her clinical practice for a job that would offer a better work-life balance. The transition was very smooth because the company employed mentors who trained incoming physician reviewers for their first six weeks. My colleague is very happy in her job as she increasingly learns more about resource utilization and the insurance guidelines she applies to clinical requests. Additionally, her hours are consistently 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with no calls, emails or charting after hours.

‘One life to live’

The bottom line is that physicians are typically ambitious, goal-oriented individuals who possess a variety of skills and talents. They have one life to live, like the rest of us, and should pursue what brings fulfillment and happiness in their daily work. In the past, physicians pursuing nonclinical careers, especially in the insurance industry or healthcare businesses, would often face pushback and hear phrases from their colleagues such as “you’re going to the dark side.” Thankfully, these days colleagues tend to be less judgmental regarding those who move on to nonclinical careers. Healthcare workers nowadays appear to understand that as long as you are contributing to improving people’s lives, that’s what counts over time.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.


  1. Margaret Magone

    I took time off of Ob/Gyn, only to discover that it was impossible to regain hospital privileges and malpractice expensive when I tried to return after 2 years. BEWARE.

    1. Trisza L Ray

      Hi Margaret. Have you looked into a physician re-entry program like CPEP or KStar. I was an ER physician for 15 years but was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016. In remission and now trying to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life. I am ambiguous about returning to full-time practice. I have researched many opportunities reguarding returning after more than 3 year absence but I have considered a physician re-entry program. Expensive though; $17K-19K for the abovementioned programs. Whatever you decide, good luck and be HAPPY.

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