Match Day 2022 has come and gone. For many freshly to-be minted physicians, Match Day is a day of celebration as they find out where they will be training in their specialty of choice. However, for many others who don’t match to a residency training position, this day can be heartbreaking and quite challenging.
In 2022, there were 42,549 active applicants in the Main Residency Match, of which 34,075 matched into a position. This 80.1% match rate was a slight increase from 2021.
This means there are roughly 8,000 physicians or soon-to-be physicians that do not have a job! This is almost unfathomable. Especially as we keep hearing about a significant shortage of doctors in the U.S., particularly in fields like family medicine and pediatrics.
So, what are these unmatched physicians to do? Well, there are two obvious options immediately available right after the Match.
One option is to apply for the supplemental match process, known as SOAP, in an attempt to match into unfilled positions. This option has since come and passed at this point.
The second immediate option is to take a year to regroup, strengthen your application, shore up on research, improve test scores, and reapply the following year. This is what many unmatched applicants choose to do. If you decide to follow this route, I highly recommend checking out The Match Guy, who has an amazing track record of helping medical graduates — especially foreign graduates — match into residency positions.
But these are not the only options.
In fact, there’s a whole world open to unmatched physicians that many haven’t previously considered: non-clinical medical careers. And there are a ton of options.
A non-clinical career may end up being the right choice for many physicians, both practicing and non-practicing, matched and not matched. Especially with the epidemic of physician burnout and moral injury plaguing clinical medicine.
So, if you didn’t match and are unsure if clinical medicine is your passion or what you want to pursue right now, you can still leverage your medical expertise and knowledge with a non-clinical career. My recommendation is to take some time and really consider what you want. What is your “big why?” If clinical medicine is still your passion, chase it! But if not, a career paradigm shift may be in order.
A quick word of caution, however. If you are undecided between a clinical and non-clinical career, the safer option in general is to pursue a clinical career. This is because it is very easy to leave clinical medicine for non-clinical medicine. But it can be very difficult to leave a non-clinical career and then match into a clinical training position. Why? The answer is bias. It’s not right, but those taking time off to pursue non-clinical careers that look to re-enter the clinical field face an uphill battle of scrutiny.
With all that said, the following are five viable and potentially lucrative non-clinical careers for unmatched physicians to consider.
Consulting is a potentially lucrative option where you can leverage your medical knowledge.
Consulting can take place in a variety of different settings and roles. So, be open and broad in pursuing opportunities. Start by searching for potential opportunities or companies that work with medical consultants and simply reach out! Be prepared to discuss what you can bring to the table as a consultant and why you are interested.
The medical industry is the most obvious arena for non-clinical doctors as consultants. For instance, in plastic surgery, device companies are littered with plastic surgeons to assist with device creation, field marketing, speaking, and the like. The same goes for every specialty, whether it’s with devices, pharmaceuticals, or both. So, reach out to the companies within your area of interest.
There are also just plain old consulting companies always looking to hire talent in specialized areas, medicine being one of them. One such company is McKinsey. But many others exist.
I even know of many physician financial service companies that have hired non-clinical physicians for consumer outreach and education.
The most challenging arena for consulting is through the media. This would include consulting on TV, films, or the news regarding areas of medicine in the public interest. The best way to go about this is to start building an online presence and following, and then leverage that for opportunities. This will take a lot of time.
Medical Writing and Editing
Technical and scientific writing is something that many medical companies require but don’t necessarily have experience with. Companies need experts to write things like grants, safety inserts, studies, and applications for new products.
After medical school, you are an expert at reading, interpreting, and creating scientific medical writing. This is a skill you can leverage for a successful non-clinical career.
Similarly, medical textbook and journal publishers need people to read and review content to ensure it meets medical standards. This can include copywriting in addition to editing.
Financial firms and companies that invest heavily in medical technology and infrastructure are often looking for medical experts to hire. These doctors can be asked to review and report on current or potential investments to vet their clinical and market viability. These can grow into executive-level positions.
Medical sales companies need physicians to assist with product planning, design, and implementation as discussed above. But they are also always in need of knowledgeable salespeople — and no one is more knowledgeable or relatable to other doctors than an actual doctor. This lends an immediate credibility that can propel one in their career path. So, if there is a product you’re passionate about, this is an excellent opportunity.
After medical school, you are an expert in medical science. And future healthcare professionals need experts to teach them so they can move the field forward either clinically or non-clinically.
Medical teaching and educational institutions constantly need medical experts to fill these roles. This can become quite a rewarding and successful career. In major universities this may include a component of research, but not all other opportunities will require this.
Research itself can be an excellent opportunity for unmatched doctors who are research inclined. This will usually require some post-graduate training that includes a payment stipend — but it can later evolve into a full-blown career.
These positions are filled outside of the Match in most cases. The field is competitive, but it offers a viable option for those interested.
Clinical Careers That Don’t Require Residency
Lastly, there are plenty of clinical positions that do not require you to be an MD/DO that completed residency. If clinical medicine is what you want but you do not wish to pursue this through the residency path, these options are open to you:
- Specialist in poison information: these are positions with a poison control center. You are paid during training, and after certification this becomes a full-time position.
- Public health: public health considers health and disease prevention in the entire population through policy and community-based medicine. This typically requires additional training but not necessarily a residency.
- Physician assistant
- Diagnostic medical sonography
- Genetic counselor
- Registered sleep technologist
Finding yourself unmatched can feel devastating. However, as always, our mindset is so important. Use this opportunity to examine what you are looking for in medicine and in life. If clinical medicine is the answer, then go for it!
But if it is not, that is alright too. There are a variety of awesome options available that can lead to a lucrative and, more importantly, fulfilling career!
Regardless of which career path you ultimately choose, remember to implement basic personal finance strategies so that you can reach financial freedom and work because you want to, not because you have to!
Disclaimer: The author is not an attorney, accountant, or financial advisor. His expertise is in the field of medicine. Any information in this op-ed and its links should not be considered personalized financial advice.
Jordan Frey, MD, is a plastic surgeon at Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, New York, and founder of The Prudent Plastic Surgeon.