There comes a time in many clinicians' lives when they've had it with patient care. It's normal, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. Whether it's burnout or a burning desire for a change, you're ready to try something new, and we're here to help you with it.
When you leave clinical care to pursue another role, it can be stressful and hard on your self-esteem. In some cases, you'll take a "step down" in pay, prestige, or even both. But a temporary step down can wind up being incredible for your career in many other ways, so don't let those self doubts keep you from pursuing your dreams!
When you're thinking about a non-clinical career, you'll need to start by asking yourself some important questions.
1. Why Do I Want to Leave Patient Care?
This question is important because it can tell you a lot about why you're feeling ready for a change, as well as which roles will suit you best moving forward. You can start by making a list of what you enjoy and don't enjoy about your current and past roles as a healthcare professional. For example, your lists might look like this:
What I enjoy:
- Working with people face-to-face
- Solving problems on the fly
- Leaving work at work
- Being on my feet
What I don't enjoy:
- Excessive paperwork
- Irritable people
- A rigid schedule
- Germs! Germs everywhere!
- Taking work home with me at night
Depending on your profession, you may or may not have an easy time making this move. Physicians and nurses, for example, will have an easier time making a transition to non-clinical work than, say, optometrists or physical therapists.
That said, it’s entirely possible to make the move; it just might take a more focused effort on your part.
Are you bad at time management? Really frustrated when you have to take your documentation home with you at night? A professor has to grade papers after hours. It might be worth considering whether you’ll find that equally frustrating.
Do you find that writing comes to you effortlessly, but struggling with agitated patients makes you want to pull your hair out? Perhaps a desk job in health marketing or communications would be better suited for you.
2. What are My Strengths and Weaknesses?
In the same vein as the first question, it's time to really take some time to discover what you're actually good at, not just what you enjoy. And knowing what you're not so good at certainly helps, too :)
This step is important because you might think you'll be a wonderful account manager at a healthcare company. It sure sounds glamorous, but if you're disorganized or spelling isn't your strong suit, it might not be the right role for you.
As above, bust out your trusty pen and paper (or computer) and craft lists of your strengths and weaknesses.
Here's a list I'd create for myself, to show what I mean:
- Excellent writing skills
- Easily frustrated
- Bad driver (guilty as charged!)
- Terrible speaking presence
- Nervous at social events
Clearly, a sales role is not in my future. But is it any surprise that I ended up in a content manager role??
3. Laminate, Hang, or Bookmark Those Lists...and Keep Updating Them!
It's important to make your lists before you get serious about a major career move. What you learn about yourself will serve as your north star throughout the process of transitioning from patient care into a non-clinical job.
For a long time, I thought I'd make a great professor because my dad is a professor. If only I had made my lists beforehand, I would have realized how much I do NOT enjoy teaching. I taught one term at my local physical therapy school, and I found it stressful and overwhelming. I was constantly taking work home with me to grade it, and guess what speaking is? Standing up in front of crowds and talking! Eek!
4. Consider Working With a Career Advisor, Career Counselor, Career Coach, or Recruiter
Career advisors, counselors, and coaches can help you with a more in-depth analysis of your self-inventory, These professionals can help you identify your strengths and growth opportunities, as well as provide motivation and encouragement to advance you toward your goals.
You will generally meet on a regular schedule, and you'll be assigned homework assignments between each meeting, including preparing your non-clinical resume( or resumes, since we all know you should tailor your resumes to specific jobs), drafting effective cover letters, and practicing interview questions and answers.
When I decided to leave clinical care, the first thing I did was work with an experienced career professional. The one I used happens to work at the University of Texas at Austin, and she is chock-full of helpful information.
We started with an assessment of how I felt as a physical therapist.
- Communication, both written and verbal
- Good energy and an upbeat personality
- Able to find humor in tense situations
- Able to get people inspired and motivated for a cause
- Shifting, adjusting, and re-prioritizing tasks as needed
- Can become frustrated if I don't see results right away
- Easily impacted by negativity and "Debbie Downers"
- I get bored easily and seek new challenges
- I can talk really quickly and overwhelm people who prefer a slower pace
- Writing, editing, and design
- Family time - my family is my top priority
- Being around positive, optimistic people
- New challenges, and variety in my work
- Having a home base for my work vs. traveling
- Recognition for my hard work
- Public speaking - that rules out becoming a professor, unless I teach online
- Being "on" all day without a break
- Being cut off from social interaction
- Negativity and complaining
Once I had a list created, I realized I could start crossing off jobs that might have once sounded appealing. For example, EMR training used to sound fun to me. And I once applied for a role as a demonstrator of hospital equipment. It sounded fun at the time because I do enjoy traveling during holidays.
But I hate traveling in my day-to-day, and I can't stand public speaking! What was I thinking? I'm glad that company didn't call me in for an interview :)
The important thing to remember about leaving patient care is you must be judicious about not jumping from the frying pan into the fire!
Recruiters can be very hit-or-miss when you're first trying to move into a non-clinical role. I recommend working with a recruiter after you have identified a direction. So it would go career professional --> recruiter.
I was lucky enough to work with one recruiter who spent some quality time with me. Once I had decided that my calling was in content production, we sat down together, and she was brutally honest with me. She explained exactly what was working and what wasn't working about my approach. She suggested some tweaks to my resume and recommended the best portfolio websites for designers and content writers.
My recruiter's recommendations were pure gold. I went from a state of constantly searching to work to suddenly needing to turn down opportunities.
5. Once You Have a Direction, Start Taking Action.
Work for free (or for much lower pay)…temporarily.
I feel terrible recommending this, but I have to. Many clinicians leave patient care because they're feeling burned out mentally and emotionally. It can be difficult to fathom starting from square one and working as, essentially, an intern.
Writing for free was 100% crucial to my ability to transition out of patient care. In my case, I co-founded NewGradPhysicalTherapy. During its first two years, I made no money on it. But the doors that opened because of my writing are countless.
As an aside, I need to mention that if you're capable of writing, you need to start writing immediately, even if you're not planning to become a writer as your non-clinical profession.
Blog, write guest posts, volunteer to contribute pro-bono work as a clinician. Once you write enough on a given topic, you can be considered an expert. But I digress :)
Use per diem work as a bridge.
If you need to soften the financial blow, I highly recommend working per diem/ or as a fill-in while you volunteer, intern, or otherwise work for free/low pay in your chosen new career path. This might not be necessary if you switch into medical device sales, but if you choose a completely new path, such as human resources, it might be necessary.
Let's say, for example, that you want to pursue a career in accounting. Rather than jumping ship entirely, consider working 3-4 days per week as a per diem/fill-in, then using your days off to take an entry-level job and/or volunteer. If you're an optometrist, you can offer to sit in with the book-keeping department at an optometry practice 2 days a week, while working as an OD the other 3. If you're interested in human resources (HR), find someone you know who works in HR and see if you can shadow him or her on the job. Once you have done so for some time, you can consider going for a certification at a local school (or online), and then the volunteer hours and certification can look great on your resume!
And who knows, if you're lucky, your volunteer hours could turn into a job!
I never said that transitioning to non-clinical work would be easy. But if it's what you want, it's achievable; you just need to make some sacrifices. The slow transition takes a definite change in spending habits, and it can cause some stress to you and your family. But the reason I recommend this approach is it's easier to "test the waters" in an unfamiliar career, before you wind up jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
I used some of the lower-paying fields as initial examples, but there are higher-paying options. If you'd like to become a professor or instructor at a university, a PhD or clinical doctorate will go a long way. Even if you don't have one, though, you might have options.
Contact your local university and start doing some digging. Do they need any lab instructors or assistants? Adjunct teaching roles are easy to nab while you work as a per diem or fill-in, due to the nature of school schedules. Once you shine in these adjunct roles, you'll have a better shot at becoming a full-time instructor.
Again, the gradual career transition, or (as one of our writers calls it) a career ombre, is not necessary in some roles. As I mentioned above, healthcare professionals are often able to jump seamlessly into sales, liaison, and marketing roles. It's all about tailoring that resume to play up the experience your clinical roles have given you.
6. Create and/or update your LinkedIn profile.
Does your LinkedIn profile still say “Your Name, Occupational Therapist”? If so, it’s time to change it. If you’re a writer, call yourself “Your Name, Copywriter/Occupational Therapist.” I know this because I search for copywriting PTs and OTs for my websites, and they’re a lot harder to find when their title doesn’t explicitly state that they are copywriters.
Let’s say you’re looking to become a medical device sales rep. You’ll want to say “Your Name, Results Driven OT,” or something similar.
What you might need to do is drop the excess letters after your name, because they can compete with your new identity. It can be painful, as those extra letters were hard to learn. I went through hell studying for my CSCS certificate, but very few recruiters are looking for those 4 letters, compared to a more accurate description.
- My old heading: “Meredith Castin, PT, DPT, CSCS: Physical Therapist”
- My newer heading: “Meredith Castin, PT, DPT: Copywriter/Physical Therapist”
- My newest heading: “Meredith Castin, PT, DPT: Head of Content”
Again, use a headline that represents the role you're looking for (or currently have, once you're no longer looking), which will help you stand out for recruiters looking for people with your background and skills.
7. Update your resume, and tweak it to fit the particular role you want.
This is a good time to discuss tailoring your healthcare resume to a specific job. During the process, you'll purge roles and experiences that aren’t relevant to your ideal position. You'll need to do the same to your LinkedIn profile, ensuring that your resume is up-to-date and reflects what your resume says.
It's important to recognize that a clinician’s healthcare resume will look very different from a non-clinician’s resume, and non-clinicians may not understand - nor care about - your clinical jargon, no matter how proud you are of all your con-ed and achievements.
Let's start with an example.
Let's say you're an occupational therapist and you're hoping to go into utilization reviewing (UR) or clinical reviewing (CR) roles.
Step 1: Scour the job description and understand what you're trying to show in your resume.
Clinical reviewers are decisive, data-based individuals who are comfortable looking at clinical notes and determining whether treatments were medically necessary. A manager of a UR/CR team doesn't want a softie, or someone who considers himself or herself nurturing or adaptable. They do, however likely care that you’re certified in NDT, as your clinical expertise will help you decipher other OTs' treatment notes.
Highlight your relevant areas and slash the irrelevant ones. Play up the times when you have audited charts over the years. Point out your roles in compliance, documentation, HIPAA, or other regulatory tasks.
Step 2: Add the exact words from the job description into your resume, wherever possible.
Yes, it's uncomfortable to interject the exact words, but it works. Many job applications (resumes and cover letters) are crawled by computers, and they’re searching for very specific words. Unless those words are picked up by the computer, your application might never make it to an actual human. It's worth taking an extra 30 minutes per job application to really tailor your resume and cover letter to the job.
Back to our UR example. Find some UR job listings and take note of the words and phrases that are frequently used in the descriptions. Take those words. Put them into your resume and cover letter.
Step 3: Remove the chaff...and include references
Don't forget that these companies will be taking a chance on you. They're busy and you need to ensure that you demonstrate that you're not just a whiner who can't hack it in patient care. Remove the burden from the hiring team and provide references upfront, ideally at the end of your resume. Cut some of the chaff from your resume, such as certifications and coursework that will never be relevant to your next job. Again, an exception is a UR job because extra education means you can better decipher clinical notes. But if you're applying to a copywriter job or a sales job, you might not need to mention your pediatric dental hygiene course (unless you'll be writing for a pediatric or dental communications company...)
Another quick example:
Are you a physical therapist looking to move into an education/teaching role? If so, remove “Utilized manual therapy techniques to address soft tissue dysfunctions” and replace with “Established clinical instruction guidelines for student therapists" and "Mentored new clinicians, providing on-boarding and orientation to the department.”
Obviously, you won't put anything that isn't true onto your resume. But, chances are, you've had a student or two during clinicals, and you've helped to on-board a new employee at some point. Make sure to play those roles up, and be ruthless about slashing the material that isn't relevant to your new role.
8. Make Sure to Tweak Your Cover Letter for EVERY JOB.
Your cover letter is the first impression you will make on a potential employer. Use it as a way to say "Hey, I like you! I like the job you've posted. I think I'd be a great fit, and here's why. And here's how to reach me."
We have entire articles written about creating cover letters. So for now, I will focus on what really matters to you as a career-changer. Yes, you need to address the elephant in the room – you’re making a really big career change - and explain your rationale in your cover letter.
Keep it simple, succinct, flattering, and straightforward. HR experts recommend that you explain your reasoning for applying for a new type of role, so that the hiring team doesn't assume you were an accidental applicant for the role.
Here's an extremely basic example of a cover letter for a non-clinical role.
Take note of how the cover letter addresses information that you can find in the original job posting, or by researching the company in question.
Dear ABC hiring team,
My name is Meredith Castin, and I'm writing to apply for the Utilization Reviewer role at ABC insurance. ABC appeals to me as an organization because of its commitment to patient-centered care, adding value to the healthcare system, and involvement in community service. My work with The Big Sisters' League has shown me the importance of engaging in community-focused activities and it's vital to me that I join a like-minded organization.
I have 4 years of patient care under my belt and, while I've greatly enjoyed working in acute care, inpatient rehab, outpatient orthopedics, and pediatrics, I have found that I am very process-driven. I have been tasked with auditing other therapists' charts, and it has proven to be the most enjoyable part of my role as a PT. I am excited to explore opportunities where I can use keen eye for detail and bring increased value to an organization.
This is definitely a bit of a career shift for me, but I'm beyond excited to apply for this role! I'd love the opportunity to be considered, and can be reached anytime at _____. Thank you, in advance, for your consideration.
Meredith Castin PT, DPT
Also, consider the culture of these organizations. The above cover letter might be too formal! You might want to cite exact examples of your auditing work. But you get the point :)
9. Set up Informational Interviews.
You might feel awkward asking for an informational interview, but it's worth it, trust me. And yes, you'll likely need to really work some of your connections to make this one happen, but it will be worth it.
The best thing you can do is find somebody who has successfully transitioned out of patient care. They're usually happy to chat because they have been there. Look through your LinkedIn connections. Reach out to the CovalentCareers team. We are always happy to connect you with the right person or people whose careers inspire you!
Once you have found your ideal informational interview candidates, offer to buy them a meal, coffee, or drink and say you’d love the opportunity to pick his/her brain about how they made the career move that you are hoping to make. If they're not in your city, ask if you can borrow 15 minutes of their time to pick their brain over the phone.
People love talking about themselves. Many folks will jump at the chance to give you this interview, while others will ignore you. It's OK. I had about a 10% success rate with actually obtaining these interviews, but I was lucky enough to have some really stellar people help me out along the way.
Another reason to stick your neck out is that in some cases, you might wind up with a job offer. At the very least, you'll have made a connection, and will have useful information as you're transitioning into a non-clinical career.
10. Sign up for Job Alerts and Major Job Platforms
Seriously. It’s a pain, but upload your resume for your “dream position” to all of them.
- CovalentCareers: Healthcare-specific job matching platform with free recruiters who will help you land the job you want. Working on getting more non-clinical jobs every day!
- Indeed: Arguably the biggest job database of jobs around and likely your best bet to find the non-clinical jobs. But you won't have a recruiter, so you'll be competing against other, more experienced applicants. Free to use.
- Glassdoor: Tons of jobs, and free to use. The site is an excellent way to research companies, benefits, and even interview questions.
- LinkedIn: Plenty of jobs, and free to use the basic version. It allows you to see how many applicants have applied for each job, as well as whether any of your connections work at a particular company.
- Monster: This is one of the oldest job-searching websites, and is known for its incredible career-related content.
The more networks and platforms you use, the more visibility you'll have!
Remember, Stay Confident and Realistic
The transition is very unlikely to take place overnight. Don't get discouraged when you feel like you could create a coffee table book with all the unanswered cover letters!
Don't put all your eggs in one basket; just like dating, no job is perfect, and you shouldn't build any job up to be the solution to your life's woes. Plus, you won't hear back from everyone - even jobs where you swear you're the perfect fit - so you might wind up with a very defeatist attitude if you don’t land the job.
Keep a thick skin as you're transitioning into a non-clinical role. If something you try isn't working, try, try again. Work with coaches. Work with recruiters.
You will get there and, who knows...one day, you might be the person being asked for an informational interview. Stranger things have happened ;)