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What You Should Know About Physician Career Planning

Jackson Physician Search
May 29, 2019

Create the Career and Life You Envisioned When You Decided to Become a Physician

Becoming a physician is a well-defined, step-by-step process that takes more than a decade to complete. What you do after getting your medical license and start practicing is full of choices. There is an abundance of practice opportunities for physicians in the United States, and with the right education and experience, you can find a job that is the perfect fit for you. With guidance and planning, you can advance and evolve your career so it always matches your changing lifestyle.

Continuing Education

Education plays a pivotal role in the life of a physician. Deciding to become a physician requires years of studying and the practice of medicine will require lifelong learning. Education is a lifestyle, whether it be in the medical field, administration, or leadership, formally or informally. MD/MBA programs are offered by many top schools including Emory, Johns Hopkins, and Harvard. Continued education and training will help you provide patients with the latest medical advances and treatment and it will benefit your career. Your Maintenance of Certification requirements, although mandatory, are great opportunities to further develop your patient care and technical skills. Networking and sharing knowledge with your peers is a great resource and a useful way to learn about practice opportunities.

Board Certification

Getting board-certified can advance your career. It is the usual next step for physicians after they get licensed and begin practicing. The process involves further, extensive training in a specialty and passing an exam for that specialty. You can become board-certified in multiple specialties if you’re inspired to do so. The benefits of being board-certified go beyond the extra knowledge you gain during training. Some organizations exclusively look for doctors that are board-certified. There are also patients that specifically look for doctors that are board-certified. Board certification signifies that you are committed to the highest quality of patient care. If you are interested in learning more about becoming board-certified, you can visit the American Board of Medical Specialties website.

Switching Specialties

If you’re unhappy with the specialty that you are practicing, and you still want a more patient-focused career, there are options. A specialty change, going from family medicine to pathology for example, means going through residency training again. If you are changing specialties to something that is closely related or is under the broad specialty of your residency, the process is not as intense. For example, internal medicine residency has many options for subspecialties that would require going through fellowship training. You can also revert to a specialty if you have been practicing a subspecialty. The main concern when changing specialties is to practice within your training or licensure. If you are willing to face the challenges that residency and fellowship present, getting more training will always benefit you long term.


Joining an association can help you become a well-rounded medical professional. Associations provide access to resources such as case studies, articles, white papers, and discussions by experts. Most of the information is available online or through monthly or quarterly publication. Depending on the focus of the association, the subject matter can include practice management, legal issues and legislation, or advancements in medicine. The second benefit is that associations are a great way to network with other medical professionals, especially with peers and experts outside of your facility. Membership can open you up to volunteering opportunities, industry discounts, and job opportunities. An association is also a great place to explore a leadership role and other activities outside of patient care.

Publishing Articles and Original Research

Sharing information is invaluable to the overall practice of medicine and leads to improvements in patient care. Whether you are doing formal case reports written to the high standard that journals require or writing in a less formal manner, publishing articles raises the value of your professional brand. Conducting research with a team can help you see if you like being in a leadership role and be the first step in developing your leadership skills. If you lead a team through a successful research project and enjoy it, that is a strong indicator that you are ready to take another step in your career.

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Academic Medicine

The healthcare system depends on high-quality physicians joining academia. Academic physicians contribute to medicine in three significant ways – teaching, research, and clinical care. Future generations of physicians are taught and trained by academic physicians. Medical advancements through research in laboratories are made by academic physicians. Physicians provide care to patients with complicated medical problems at academic medical centers. There are many great opportunities for you to practice medicine the way you want and contribute to the future of medicine.

Leadership and Management

Taking a management or leadership position can be a significant step for a physician as it opens additional career options. If you continue down the healthcare administration path eventually your role in patient care may end. Even though you may stop seeing patients, the overall goal is still the same, providing high-quality patient care. You’ll do this by working to make your facility more efficient and developing the best environment for the healthcare professionals that work there. The American Association for Physician Leadership is a great place to learn more about the transition from physician to executive. As you transition to a leadership position, you gain responsibilities for a wide range of business functions including operations, finances, and planning the future of the organization. The benefits of having your perspective as a physician applied to leadership is invaluable. Your understanding of how care is provided, experience working with clinicians, and experience with inefficiencies within the organization means you have the knowledge to make a difference.

Starting Your Own Practice

Take full control of your career by starting your own practice. The pros of owning your own practice include control and autonomy. The cons include the increased work that is involved with ensuring that the practice is successful. The middle ground between independent and employed is being a part owner in a group practice. You’ll have less control but also less stress. The current trend in American Healthcare is that physicians are choosing to be hospital employed. In 2018, 47.4% of physicians worked for a hospital while 45.9% were independent with an ownership stake. That is the first time employed physicians outnumbered self-employed physicians since 2012.1 Your education and experience outside of medicine come into play if you’re a solo practitioner or group practice owner. Any business savvy you have learned will be needed. You may want to slowly transition from employed to independent as your career progresses. You could transition into concierge medicine. If you have a large enough base of patients that you see on a regular basis, this practice model is a viable option.

Non-traditional Opportunities

There are some non-traditional career opportunities that might suit the more adventurous or compassionate. Correctional health services include helping incarcerated patients that are mentally ill, have substance abuse problems, or are elderly and need extra care. Correctional healthcare provides an opportunity for physicians to gain experience quickly due to patient volume and diversity. An adventurous physician can take a position on a cruise ship or at a resort. These positions are typically seasonal, and the compensation can be lower than a traditional practice. If you are at a point in your career where your financial status is secure, a lifestyle position at a resort is a great way to enjoy your success, while continuing to see patients.

Non-clinical Jobs

If you are looking to transition away from seeing patients there are several non-clinical options for you. Depending on your experience, you could become a medical director for an insurance company, hospital, or life sciences organization. Depending on your specialty and training, you could join the Public Health Service. You can use the knowledge and experience you have gained throughout your career to influence the future practice of medicine by helping shape public policy or taking a government position. Taking a communications or journalism position, while technically non-clinical, doesn’t mean an end to your clinical career. Many of these opportunities are available while you are practicing medicine and seeing patients. Industry Research such as pharmaceuticals is another non-clinical option. If you managed a successful private practice and are considering no longer seeing patients, you could start consulting with other private practices or become a board member for a healthcare organization.

Earning More

Advancing your career is rewarding and an acknowledgment of your increased skills and expertise. Career advancement may come with a financial reward as well. If you are looking to maximize the financial benefits of taking a step up the career ladder, you might have to look outside of your current practice. Many factors, like location, come into play regarding physician compensation. Cost of living should be considered, especially if your compensation goals are tied to life goals like retirement savings or homeownership. You can use our physician salary calculator to compare salaries for different locations and practice settings.

Working Less

For some physicians, the ultimate goal isn’t recognition or wealth, it’s practicing medicine exactly how they want. For many physicians that means seeing fewer patients per day so that more time can be spent with each patient. For others, it means becoming very specialized and focusing on helping patients with rare or hard to treat healthcare needs. If you fit either category, or you’re looking to spend more time with your family, it might be time for you to change your practice setting. Joining a specialized practice or a lifestyle practice will help you achieve the career satisfaction that you seek. Practicing medicine on your terms can reignite your passion for medicine. It can also give you more time to volunteer or dive back into a hobby. Locums gives you the opportunity to work and travel. Extended periods between locums contracts allow you to really explore each new assigned city.

Physician Career Opportunities

The future is bright for physicians of all specialties. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growing and aging population is expected to drive overall growth in the demand for physician services. Overall employment is projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is about 6 points higher than the average. Demand is expected to increase despite factors that can temper growth. Prospects should be especially good for physicians who are willing to practice in rural and low-income areas. Physicians with specialties that deal with the health issues affecting baby boomers should also see good job prospects.2

If there is something lacking from your current practice, know that you have options. You can find a position that fits the career (and life) goals that you want. We are passionate about what we do because we know the impact physicians have on a community. We want you to have a long and fulfilling career helping patients, whether it be through clinical work, research, teaching, or management. If you’re ready to make a change, start your search now.

  1. “Policy Research Perspectives” American Medical Association, 2018.
  2. “Occupational Outlook Handbook” Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2019.

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