Seeking Career Alternatives

May 1, 2007

I have been unable to practice for several years due to a rare and incurable disease. My health has stabilized to the point where I can work 20 to 30 hours a week, but I have no idea how or where to market myself. I will continue to need accommodations such as no night call and limited weekend duty. I would consider doing nonclinical work for an insurance or drug company. I love clinical practice above all else, but I recognize that most employers want docs who can do a lot of hours and a lot of nights. Private practice is not an option; I have no money to invest. In addition, I may lose my board-certified status; it requires an active license, and I had to put mine on inactive status to save money. I have a good reputation as a clinician, but since I haven’t practiced in four years, it might be hard to find current references. Any suggestions?

Question: I have been unable to practice for several years due to a rare and incurable disease. My health has stabilized to the point where I can work 20 to 30 hours a week, but I have no idea how or where to market myself. I will continue to need accommodations such as no night call and limited weekend duty. I would consider doing nonclinical work for an insurance or drug company. I love clinical practice above all else, but I recognize that most employers want docs who can do a lot of hours and a lot of nights. Private practice is not an option; I have no money to invest. In addition, I may lose my board-certified status; it requires an active license, and I had to put mine on inactive status to save money. I have a good reputation as a clinician, but since I haven’t practiced in four years, it might be hard to find current references. Any suggestions?

Answer: Yours is a heartbreaking story. Many practices are becoming more accepting of part-time physicians, largely thanks to an influx of female physicians who insist on it while raising children.

If you indeed feel that you want to continue to practice in the clinical setting, consider telling your story to some of the larger physician recruiting firms such as Merritt, Hawkins & Associates or Cejka Search. See what they can come up with. Generally, they are happy to hear from physicians looking for work. They get paid by the hiring company.

In the meantime, look into what it will take to get your license activated and board certification renewed.

If the recruitment firms don’t come up with anything, you could look at the math of opening a very small part-time practice of your own. The key to making it work is maintaining as little overhead as possible: Sublet a small space, greet and schedule patients yourself, and outsource billing. Be sure to crunch the numbers first.

Do a sort of self-analysis. If the clinical work isn’t going to happen, assess what parts of it, what skills, and what interactions you like best. Can you find those in other settings? If you like to work quietly, look into acting as an editor of a journal or Web site in your field. Perhaps you could work for your specialty society. Or you might find part-time work in a hospice. Or help the airlines deal with passengers with severe anxiety. In other words, pinpoint what you love, and find other ways to do that.

Really, this isn’t a limitation. It’s a chance to explore endless opportunities. You just aren’t accustomed to thinking about what else is out there.