Congratulations! Years of hard work and sacrifice have finally paid off and you’re the proud new owner of a medical degree. There’s just one tiny problem – you’re $200,000 in debt and have no plans to complete a residency.
Maybe you’re burnt out. Maybe you became disillusioned with medicine during your clinical rotations but convinced yourself a medical degree was worth more than half of one. Maybe you’ve tried to match repeatedly without any success. Maybe you’re an international graduate who is having trouble getting their foot in the door.
Regardless of how you ended up in this predicament, you may be feeling trapped. You just completed the world’s most expensive trade school and the only thing you’re qualified to do is the one job you desire least.
Good news! There are plenty of alternative career paths that can still earn six figure salaries. Here are 10 alternative jobs that put your medical training to good use.
You may not be able to see patients, but you can still shape the future of healthcare through clinical research. A clinical research associate (CRA) helps organize and run clinical trials. They collect and analyze data, create reports and presentations and interact with patients, physicians and other researchers. A Glassdoor.com survey found the average CRA salary was $79,474. A Senior CRA salary is $121,164 according to this ZipRecruiter survey.
Pre-requisites: Bachelor’s degree or higher, scientific background preferred
If you enjoy this type of work, you could eventually become a Principal Investigator (PI). A principal investigator is the individual in charge of designing and maintaining a study. They apply for research grants and ensure that the research follows federal regulations. The average salary for a PI is $103,431 according to this survey.
Pre-requisites: Doctorate degree (MD and DO included)
Certification: After working as a PI for two years you can apply to become a Certified Principal Investigator by the ACRP.
A pharmaceutical sales rep works for a pharmaceutical company to promote new and existing drugs to physicians. They have to keep up to date on the products they sell as well as the competition. A good sales rep is outgoing and persuasive, and is able to establish and maintain relationships with physicians in their sales area.
This 2018 Pharmaceutical Sales Salary Report states that the average salary in pharmaceutical sales is $133,563. If you play your cards right and get into a management position the pay goes even higher. A sales director or VP earns an average of $245,000. No wonder these guys keep offering to buy us pizza!
Certification: You can become a Certified National Pharmaceutical Representative (CNPR) through the National Association of Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives.
Medical Device Sales
Marketing new drugs isn’t the only way to use your medical training in a sales position. Medical devices like pacemakers, joint replacements and spinal stimulators need marketing too. Selling medical devices pays even better than pharmaceuticals.
The 2018 Medical Sales Salary Report estimates the average salary is $152,250. If you work your way up the corporate ladder you could become a sales managers averaging $179,074.
Certification: Although certification is not necessary, there are many training programs that can prepare you for a career in medical device sales.
Have you ever been frustrated with an electronic health record? Are you tired of clicking your mouse 14 times just to find one piece of useful information in a chart? You’ll be shocked when you discover how much the person who sold you that software makes. The average salary for Health IT Sales Reps is $176,012.
A health IT sales rep markets and sells software and technology to hospitals, private practices and other health organizations. They may be involved in the roll out of a new product with on site assistance. There will be traveling involved with this job, but the payoff may be worth it.
Certification: Although not necessary for sales, you can become a Certified Professional in Health Information & Management Systems. Since you already had a graduate degree, you can take the exam after 3 years of health IT experience.
One of the reasons I enjoy being a doctor is getting patients to understand complex medical problems in terms they understand. If you enjoy writing and communicating information to a wide range of audiences you might enjoy becoming a medical writer.
Medical writing jobs come in all shapes and sizes. You could write for a medical journal or textbook company. You could create promotional material for a pharmaceutical company. You could work for a business that creates CME material.
Medical writing pays surprisingly well. According to this salary survey by the American Medical Writers Association the average medical writer earns $131,400. Writers who specialize in regulatory documents can earn even more at $168,600! I think I may have discovered my next side gig.
Certified Surgical Assistant
Want all the fun of the operating room without the grueling hours and call schedule of a surgeon? You should consider becoming a certified surgical assistant. A CSA assists surgeons in the operating room. They can open and close surgical sites, dissect, remove tissue or whatever else the surgeon needs them to assist with. Remember all those hours on your surgical rotation you spent holding a retractor and cutting sutures? Someone out there is making 100 grand doing that as we speak.
Training: If you are a medical school graduate, you can an apply for certification if you can provide documentation that you have spent 2,250 hours first assisting in OR cases. Since most of us only spent a fraction of that time assisting during medical school, you will likely have to enroll in an accredited training program.
After training you can apply to take the certification exam through the National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
Do you enjoy working with your hands and using technology? Would you like to work independently and interact with patients without the liability of being a physician? You might enjoy becoming a diagnostic sonographer. All those ultrasounds you ordered on patients in med school didn’t just magically appear. Every time you clicked that box you were providing job security for the person holding that ultrasound probe 40 hours a week.
Although the average salary for sonographers is $69,650, there are parts of the country where you can make much more. In fact, 10% of sonographers earn more than $99,100/year.
With a medical degree, you can apply to become a Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer after documenting that you have performed 800 ultrasound studies. Many technical schools offer 12 month programs in this field for a tiny sliver of what med school cost you. You can view the different training pathways and prerequisites here.
A genetic counselor helps patients and their families understand the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic diseases. They determine what genetic tests may be appropriate and help interpret the results. A genetic counselor may specialize in a specific niche such as pediatrics, neurology or cancer.
Like a physician, a genetic counselor provides education and reassurance to their patients. If you like the idea of interacting with patients and their families this might be a good fit for you.
Although the average wage for a genetic counselor is $74,960, the top 10% earn more than $104,770.
Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Think of all the nuclear stress tests, V/Q scans and PET scans that get ordered every day. Do you know what all those tests have in common? A nuclear medicine technologist.
A nuclear medicine technologist prepares radioactive drugs and administers them to patients for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes. The average salary is $75,660 but many can earn much more. The average salary at outpatient centers is $97,960 and 10% of all nuclear medicine technologists earn more than $103,660.
For people like yourself who already have a degree, you will need to complete a certificate program from an accredited school. 12 months at an affordable technical school may be the only thing that stands between you and a stable 6 figure job.
Your years of medical training have given you new insight into the complexities of the American healthcare system. If you are disillusioned with patient care but still want to have an impact on how that care is delivered you may enjoy a career in business consulting.
Companies such as the respected McKinsey & Company hire professionals to help them understand businesses so they can improve them for profit. It turns out your experience is pretty valuable since the average salary for a McKinsey employee is $123,000.
If you have an eye for business and like the idea of being surrounded by a diverse group of professionals, this may be the career for you.
If you made it through medical school you clearly have the ability to memorize tons of information and regurgitate it for an exam. If you think you still have some academic fuel in the tank you could consider going back to law school. The average salary for a lawyer specializing in medical law (healthcare law, medical malpractice, personal injury) is $150,881.
If you become a medical malpractice plaintiff attorney, the sky is the limit to your potential income. Most plaintiff attorneys work on contingency and collect 20-40% of the awarded settlement. Of course, you will have to sell your soul and stop talking to all your med school friends.
I will caution you that you need to think long and hard before pursuing another expensive doctoral degree. The average medical school debt is $190,000. In exchange, the average physician salary ranges anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000.
If you have already amassed sizable debt and have passed on pursuing a lucrative clinical career, you have to be really sure that becoming a lawyer is your passion. The average law school costs $47,112 per year for 3 years. What does that extra $150,000 in debt get you? Even if you graduate from one of the elite top 15 law schools in the country, their graduates’ starting salary averages $180,000. You could have spent those 3 years of law school getting paid as a resident and end up with a higher paying attending job. It’s no wonder that only 23% of law school grads say their education was worth the cost.
There’s Light at the End of the Tunnel
You may feel trapped holding that shiny medical diploma with no place to hang it. Do not despair! With a little footwork you can find multiple careers that pay a six figure income. There is a way to pay off those medical school loans before your first Social Security check.
You will need to swallow your pride. You may have to answer to bosses with half your training and none of your book smarts. You will be able to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle, but you won’t be keeping up with the Dr. Joneses. Forget all them – your happiness is more important.
If there is any part of you that is still interested in clinical medicine you may want to strongly consider doing at least an intern year to pass your USMLE. An active medical license can open even more doors for you including Cheap Certifications Worth Big Bucks.
Whatever you choose to do with your life, don’t give up. If you were smart and determined enough to make it this far, you’re smart and determined enough to blaze a new trail.