Official Partner The Royal Society of Medicine


Alternative Careers

From the age of 17, aspiring doctors are on a fixed and structured path towards a career in medicine. From their A-Level choices through to their CCT, doctors travel through a progression system that leads them into one (or more) specialities in a large and varied profession. But for some, the occupation is no longer the path along which they wish to travel. For these doctors, there are a wide variety of options – from different careers within medicine, to those completely separate.

Leaving Medicine

With UK medical students beginning their medical training at undergraduate level – usually at 18 years of age – its no wonder that some people develop into adults with different ideas about that future. In the US, medical school training tends to begin at around age 23, at postgraduate level – perhaps to help combat this change in sentiment. Reasons that doctors give for leaving the medical profession at any point after graduation include

Doctors who are feeling any of the above should consider the options alternative careers could give them.

Alternative Roles

The skills gained by medical graduates and trained doctors are highly valued in the job market – from managerial experience, to coping with pressure, empathy, and decision-making. As such, doctors have moved from medicine into a wide range of non-medical careers – a selection of which are given below.


Many medicine graduates admit that they toyed with the notion of a legal career before applying to university. The lure of becoming a barrister or solicitor may be due to the intellectual element common to both medicine and law, or the idea that both careers help to make a real difference to peoples’ lives.

Entry into legal training is extremely competitive and expensive, and sponsorships highly sought-after yet necessary for many applicants. As such, there are other legal careers available such as risk management, medical advisory roles within law firms, and forensic pathology.

Medical Education

Medical educators are those who support students in teaching hospitals and universities, or teach privately or in a local authority or council. Those working in higher education may be able to balance practising medicine with their teaching, due to an increased focus on students being taught by current clinicians.

The Civil Service

Doctors working for the civil service may bring their medical knowledge to government agencies such as the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, or the Department of Health. A career in the Civil Service is usually mainly administrative, and as such, candidates who are confident in their communication, team-working, management, and strategic skills, in addition to being eligible on citizenship grounds, could enjoy a career with the government.

Expedition Medicine

Expedition medics support those in hostile environments, from mountaineers to researchers. This could include assisting with risk assessments, providing emergency aid to the injured, or ongoing care to those who fall ill or need emergency evacuation.

Medical Writing

Medical writers produce content for firms such as consultancy firms, education companies, and medical conference organisers. They may also be employed to provide up-to-date information regarding new medical advances to hospital departments and healthcare providers, or assist in the producing and reporting of clinical studies.

There may also be a marketing element to the work – producing press releases or conference flyers, circulars, or corporate newsletters.

Writers may be employed by pharmaceutical companies, libraries and archives, royal societies, or government agencies.

Prison Service

In addition to the inclusion of prison healthcare on the speciality training rotation, some doctors choose to work in the service on a full-time basis. There are a number of roles available, usually involving an emphasis on rehabilitation medicine or mental health.

Medical Journalism

Doctors wishing to work in on-line journalism, radio, television, or the press in general will face competition from applicants with lots of experience in the media – as well as other doctors looking to move into medical journalism. Many roles in this area are undertaken on a freelance basis, with many doctors taking journalistic roles in addition to their clinical work. Journalists who are still practising doctors are often seen as far more credible.

Medical journalists need to be able to write to deadlines, and in a variety of styles. They would ideally have had experience with getting articles or research papers published, or have undertaken independent training in writing.


Researchers may work in education, research organisations, charities, or industry. Those working in medical research will conduct experiments and analyse the results – all in the name of developing new drugs, medical products, and understanding.

Medical Politics & Ethics

Work opportunities in this sector are focussed on improving working conditions and patient care at a regional or national level. Candidates should have an interest in national issues, and feel comfortable with the idea of develioping strategy, working with defence unions, or dealing with risk management. This is a career that may be balanced with a clinical career.

NHS Managerial Roles

Managers in the NHS have never been more responsible for the organisation’s future – dealing with large staff turnovers, and the running of departments on ever-shrinking budgets. Managers may have to make decisions that are unpopular with staff, patients, or the public, but doctors often have similar experience from their clinical work.


Doctors looking to move into the pharmaceutical industry may find careers in R&D, management, sales, development of clinical products, or quality control. More experienced doctors could consider working in medical affairs, or the management of product development at the last stages of drug or equipment production – from marketing to consulting with legal authorities.

Working Abroad

Doctors looking for opportunities to practice medicine overseas should be aware that there may not be complete parity between their medical qualifications, and the requirements in the destination country. Doctors may work in emergency relief, infrastructure, or running local clinics – as well as more traditional healthcare in developed countries such as New Zealand or the US.

For more information, visit our working abroad page.

Defence Medical Services

Doctors working for the DMS support the Armed Forces as practising doctors – be this in a primary or secondary capacity in the UK or overseas. There may be medical, age, or time constraints on applying to roles in the DMS.


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