6 Nonclinical Careers for Physicians Looking to Switch

Sylvie Stacy, MD, MPH


August 05, 2020

4. Drug Safety

A drug's benefits need to outweigh the risks. To accomplish this, any adverse effects found during clinical trials need to be thoroughly investigated. Ideally, a drug company identifies any adverse effects before approval; however, this isn't always feasible. There also may be side effects or toxicities that are known but not fully understood before approval. That's why ongoing drug safety efforts are needed when a drug is being actively marketed and used in treating patients.

Drug safety teams are multidisciplinary, including physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and scientists. Physicians interact with all levels of the team and hold significant responsibility for the detection and investigation of what are known as "safety signals." The company gathers data about potential adverse events through online reporting forms, call centers, and other means. Drug safety physicians use their medical knowledge along with an array of protocols and resources to determine the best course of action in responding to a safety signal.

Where to find these jobs: Drug safety and pharmacovigilance functions can be carried out internally or outsourced. Much work done by physicians with the FDA is similar to that conducted by industry drug safety physicians.

General expected pay range: $140,000-$270,000 per year

What some physicians like about these jobs: Drug safety physicians are rewarded by mentally challenging work that truly utilizes their scientific, medical, and clinical knowledge. Compensation typically rivals that of clinical work, owing to the need for a medical degree and relevant clinical experience in interpreting safety signals and trends. Jobs tend to have regular hours and can sometimes be done remotely.

What some physicians dislike: The work of a drug safety physician can be stressful. Complex decisions must be made about whether findings constitute a significant drug safety event. Similar to clinical work, patients' lives are on the line. Drug safety may not be the most fitting career for doctors who dislike working with data, especially those who would not feel comfortable dealing with incomplete data and occasional misinformation.

5. Medical Education

Marketing and education in the pharmaceutical industry spans beyond TV ads and drug rep visits. Print and web-based informational materials, continuing medical education, medical publications, having a presence at scientific meetings, and disease awareness programs are only a few of the many other activities.

A physician's medical background is valuable in truthfully and directly portraying medical information while simultaneously supporting the client's brand and needs. A solid familiarity with healthcare and public health is an asset and can assist in developing medical education materials that tell a compelling story to clinicians, patients, and other stakeholders.

A medical director working within pharmaceutical medical education is responsible for conceptualizing and overseeing the development of various types of educational materials. These might include slide decks for continuing education sessions, reports summarizing advisory board meetings, scripts for educational videos, website copy for advocacy groups, and informational pamphlets.

The extent to which a medical director is responsible for the actual writing of content varies, depending on company size and project type. Some directors may have the help of a team of medical writers, editors, and other staff to create a publications plan. Regardless, they must use a critical eye to ensure that written material is medically accurate and that claims are backed by the pharmaceutical company's data from clinical trials and other sources.

Where to find these jobs: Although pharmaceutical companies often have internal medical education divisions, the technical and writing parts of "med ed" are often done by third-party organizations. Roles are available in medical communications companies and full-service CROs. Medical education is also an option for physicians wishing to freelance.

General expected pay range: $110,000-$160,000 per year

What some physicians like about these jobs: Medical education is appealing to many physicians in that it requires digesting and summarizing large quantities of highly technical information into formats that are appropriate for different audiences and outlets. Hours are often flexible, and many medical writing positions allow for remote work.

What some physicians dislike: Compensation for physicians in medical education isn't stellar, which may be a turnoff for some doctors. This type of work requires meeting tight deadlines and often involves adapting quickly to changing priorities and requirements.

6. Health Economics and Outcomes Research

Health economics and outcomes research (HEOR) within a pharmaceutical company aims to collect and disseminate data on a drug after approval. It tends to focus on humanistic data, such as health-related quality of life and other patient-reported outcomes. This field has grown rapidly as governments and payers grapple with how to provide the best possible health outcomes to their populations.

Because of the pivot in commercial strategy from simple product pricing toward establishing value and demonstrating health outcomes, professionals with medical backgrounds are now a significant component of HEOR. Success in this field requires a solid understanding of the needs and concerns of customers, which are often clinical in nature.

Physicians in this field interact with commercial team members as well as with clinical staff in other divisions in order to understand and communicate economic evidence to support a drug's marketing and pricing strategy. Externally, physicians in HEOR are responsible for demonstrating the value of the company's drugs to healthcare payers.

With regard to research activities, an HEOR director oversees analyses to support marketing decisions and assist healthcare providers and payers in delivering cost-effective solutions. The HEOR director may be involved in several aspects of research, including study design and implementation, data analysis, and dissemination of results.

Where to find these jobs: As with other types of jobs for physicians in the pharmaceutical industry, HEOR positions can be found both internally and with companies to whom HEOR needs are outsourced. The rise of healthcare analytics has created a need for HEOR specialists within health tech companies and healthcare payers. HEOR roles can also be found in research institutions, think tanks, and other organizations involved in shaping health policy.

General expected pay range: $110,000-$135,000 per year

What some physicians like about these jobs: HEOR can be a great fit for numbers-oriented physicians. Doctors who find themselves considering cost-effectiveness while working in the clinical setting are likely to enjoy the problems tackled in HEOR work. Because most HEOR professionals don't come from a clinical background, a physician's skill set can be a big asset to an HEOR team.

What some physicians dislike: Because most HEOR positions do not require an MD, the pay tends to be lower than for other types of work for physicians in the pharmaceutical industry. Doctors who enjoy the "soft" side of medicine may not appreciate the mathematical modeling, statistics, and economic analyses that make up the bulk of HEOR.


The pharmaceutical industry offers a broad range of opportunities for physicians. Medical device, biotechnology, and other medical product companies often offer similar positions that depend on a physician's deep medical knowledge base and clinical experience.

Physicians who are interested in transitioning to a nonclinical role should think about their motivations and what brings them fulfillment in this work. This will help them to pursue the right jobs within the industry. Being able to give meaningful reasons for applying to a particular job is crucial to landing a great position.

To learn more about jobs for physicians in these areas, as well as in other industries and sectors, check out 50 Nonclinical Careers for Physicians.

Follow Medscape on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.