top of page

What to Consider Before Leaving Clinical Medicine

Unfortunately, with physician burnout on the rise and more and more physicians feeling the that their current positions are unsustainable, we increasingly see physicians who are tired and frustrated and considering leaving clinical medicine. If you have been on our physician communities for a while, you have seen posts asking about how to leave clinical medicine. Some of these posts are asking generally about options for nonclinical careers for physicians, while others are asking if anybody knows of any opportunities. Others are asking for how to achieve financial independence so they can quit working altogether. 

One thing that we’ve noticed is that while for some physicians, this is a gradual desire after trying multiple options to pivot within their careers, for others, this decision to transition can be quite sudden after the prototypical “straw that breaks the camel’s back.” This is the situation we urge caution in. Before assuming that the grass is greener on the nonclinical side or that there is no way to be happy in clinical medicine, there are several in between options that have worked for many members of the community which we urge you to consider.

As a society, we need physicians, and while we don’t think that anybody should sacrifice their happiness to stay in clinical medicine, leaving entirely is not always the best option, especially if you still love the heart of what you do. You've spent a lot of time getting to where you can practice clinical medicine, so it makes sense to consider all options before deciding it's not for you. Perhaps it’s that you’re at the wrong job for you, perhaps you need to work less hours, or perhaps you need to optimize your current situation. Flexible or part time options in clinical practice, or alternative practice models such as direct primary care, may still pay more than a full time non-clinical job, so it’s definitely worth looking into.

Below, we cover what to consider before leaving clinical medicine to help you make the most informed, best decision for you and your situation.

10 reasons doctors consider leaving clinical medicine, as outlined above

Quick Links

Why Doctors Consider Leaving Clinical Medicine

Everyone’s path to considering a career shift comes from a combination of different stressors and circumstances. It’s probably comes as no surprise to you that some of the most common reasons we see for wanting to quit medicine in our physician communities are:

  • Excessive bureaucracy within the healthcare system

  • Excessive work hours

  • Increased administrative demands that emphasize profits over patients

  • Pay inequalities relevant to other specialties and professionals in the industry

  • Increased patient expectations outside of visits without compensation

  • Reduced insurance reimbursements and increased challenges with prior authorization s and payment collections

  • Reduced time that can be spent with patients, resulting to erosion of the doctor-patient relationship

  • Staffing storages within organizations

  • Poor leadership at organizations

  • Family obligations

Questions to Consider Before Leaving Clinical Medicine

When you’re in the thick of things with burnout and frustration, leaving clinical medicine can seem like the default answer.  However, there are alternatives that we hope everyone considers before making this decision. 

Six questions to consider before leaving clinical medicine, covered below

What is your “why” for wanting to change careers?

We listed several common responses above. Which one(s) resonated with you? Write your reasons down, as it helps to work through the thought process to create a clear picture for your motivations.

While some motivators are system-wide, many may be specific to your current position, such as poor leadership, lack of adequate compensation, and staffing storages.

Sometimes, it isn’t the healthcare system overall that has us burnt out and wanting to leave clinical medicine – it’s all the additional responsibilities we’ve assumed over the years that leave us feeling overwhelmed and undervalued.

Before leaving your medical career, evaluate it from all its components.

  • What are all the different parts of your professional career as a physician?

  • Which parts do you love?

  • What parts make you want to quit?

Also, consider ranking them by what you enjoy and despise the most, and with each item, ask yourself if there is a way to do more of the things you enjoy and a way to do less of what you don't like, either within your current job or a different job.

Ultimately, what you have to decide is if you are truly burnt out from practicing medicine and want to do something other than patient care, or you still love your career and the heart of what you do as a physician. If the latter is true, leaving clinical medicine might not be the best solution for you. Instead, you may want to consider looking for a new place to practice or changing your role within your current organization. This could mean reducing your hours, adding a different focus to your practice, changing your schedule around, or renegotiating your physician contract. For those who think they can’t afford to cut back, it may mean reducing your clinical hours and then adding a side gig or alternative income stream to supplement your income.

What do you want to do instead?

When making a big change in life, it’s better to run toward something new and exciting rather than running away from something you’re tired of. If you’re considering leaving clinical medicine, have an idea of what you want to do for the next stage of your career before you quit your clinical job. Assuming that the grass is greener on the other side can easily lead to regret and closing doors that you may not have wanted to close if it turns out that the new position was also not a good fit for your personal and professional goals.

If you have no idea what you want to do next, put some time into visualizing what the ideal job would look like, and then research job options that have those qualities so that you can be intentional about the next position. Many physicians who are just wanting to escape their current situation apply to the first opportunity they hear of, without truly understanding what a typical day in the new job looks like or what physicians in those jobs complain about.

As physicians, most of us checked off a box during college that declared that we were pre-med and then had the next 10-20 years of our life mapped out for us in terms of exams, training, and responsibilities. We aren’t used to thinking about what we actually want, and it’s important to take the step back and look at the 30,000 foot view so that you can plan your exit carefully if this is what you decide is ultimately right for you. Talk to people who have made these decisions and ask them about what they love and what they regret or complain about these days. Interview with different options to get a feel for different opportunities. For example, if you want to look at non-clinical opportunities, there are a wide range of nonclinical jobs for physicians that you can explore beyond the ones that we hear most about on the communities. This can help you narrow down your focus to exploring opportunities and networking in a particular niche, which will increase your chances of success. It will also give you a more comprehensive sense of the current market landscape including demand and salary ranges. Once you’ve decided what that you want to do, we include resources below to help plan your path to leaving.

If after doing this, you’re not sure that your alternative options are desirable, go back to asking yourself the questions below to see if there are better options within clinical medicine. 

Is there a way to find a better fit at your current job?

If you still love medicine but burnout is fueling your decision to leave, consider sitting down with administration at your current job and looking for ways to reduce the stressors you listed above. At this point, you've already decided the current position isn't going to work for you as is, so there's minimal to lose by asking for some changes as long as done tactfully.

Consider some of the following as ways to lessen your load in clinical medicine so you can enjoy your current career more. If they don’t resolve your issues, you can always consider changing careers further down the road.

  • Administrative time: If you find yourself spending hours at home every week finishing charts or overwhelmed by the number of patient portal messages you receive, consider hiring a virtual assistant (including AI scribes) or asking for more staff to help with the administrative burden of your role, so you can focus on patient care.

  • On-call schedule: If the call schedule is what has you burnt out, talk to your administration to see what options are available that would be more conducive to your job satisfaction. See our stats on physician on call schedules and compensation. Visit our salary and negotiation resources page for the latest link or our on-call information database to see what kinds of call requirements other physicians in a similar position have.

  • Leadership roles or research responsibilities: While you might enjoy helping run the organization, teaching residents and fellows, or publishing academic research, these extra responsibilities can really add to a clinical load. Consider giving up one–or all–if you’re feeling overtaxed with responsibilities.

  • Schedule template: Sometimes, there are particular days that are more stressful than others because they are particularly packed, or because you're trying to get out in time to make it to your kids' sporting event. Is there a way to shift your schedule to an earlier start or change your template so that your days are better balanced?

  • Decreasing work hours: If it’s just that you need to work less, you could also just cut back at your current job or take more vacation. You may not think it’s a good time for you to cut back, especially if your organization is already short staffed, but you leaving may be an even worse alternative for them than you switching to 0.5 FTE or 0.75 FTE. Your employer will also benefit from a less stressed out and more focused physician showing up to work on the days when you do come in, versus you being there physically while emotionally checked out to protect yourself from the workload demands. 

If you are not enjoying a particular responsibility, is there a way to re-assign that to someone else and pick up more work in something that you do enjoy? If your job is preventing you from making it to a responsibility outside the home that’s causing you stress or guilt, this can really contribute to burnout as well.

Before just walking into the administrative office without a plan, take some time to articulate these thoughts on paper and gather supporting arguments. Use these arguments in conjunction with data showing your contributions to the institution (productivity, special skill sets, patient satisfaction scores) to negotiate your position.

If after considering these options and talking to your administrators, you are unable to find a good compromise, but still enjoy clinical medicine, it may be time to start thinking about whether another practice environment would allow you to have the life in medicine that you want.

Are there different physician jobs that better fulfill your personal and professional goals as a physician?

If you’ve exhausted options to optimize your current position, the next question is whether there is a practice environment elsewhere that better fits your personal and professional goals for your career. This may mean a job that offers better work life balance, more flexibility, more of a patient population and case mix that you enjoy, better compensation, or a different model of care. We’ve had so many physicians on the communities express that they thought they were done with clinical medicine until they took a new job that was more in line with their current stage of life.

More concretely, some examples of what physicians have done:

  • Switched to a job with less call responsibilities

  • Found a job that emphasized a certain aspect of their skillset that was more in line with their goals (for example, dropping OB responsibilities and just doing GYN)

  • Switched to a job with a more physician-friendly administration 

  • Left an employed position in favor of starting their own private practice

  • Stopped taking insurance and switched to direct primary care

  • Took a job with less hours

  • Switched to being a locums physician

Again, thinking about what it is that you don’t enjoy about your current situation and being intentional about finding a new position is critical to avoiding the same situation at your next position. While every job has its pros and cons, it’s about maximizing what you love about clinical medicine and minimizing what’s burning you out.

Are you done done or do you need a break to recharge?

If you still love clinical medicine but you’re just overwhelmed, it may just be that you need a break or you need to find ways to make your work more sustainable. 

Look back and honestly assess your motivations for wanting to leave. Are they all recent, piling up over the last year or so? Has your home situation changed and left you struggling to find a way to balance? Do you need more help around the house?  A virtual assistant can help with responsibilities around the home, or maybe you need a meal service or a house manager. Are you spending too much time charting? Look into an AI scribe. Our physician resources page has resources for these things!

Before you quit, consider taking a vacation or a short leave of absence. Time and distance from a situation often create clarity. If you haven’t been on a vacation in ages, that can definitely contribute to overload. We recommend physicians use every hour of paid personal time they have each year to help combat burnout. If your personal finances situation is tight, you don’t have to go on a lavish trip. A staycation home with the family might be just what the doctor ordered.

Best ways to avoid physician burnout, compiled from our Physician Community

Can you financially afford to leave?

While this is one of our least favorite reasons for staying, the tough reality is that many doctors struggle under the burden of student loans or can’t afford to give up their salary because of the obligations of their lifestyle. While we don’t want your situation to chain you to a career that no longer serves you, assessing your financial stability at the moment can protect you from an even worse situation financially, which will only add to your stress and burnout.

Sit down with your budget and your financial independence numbers and see what options are available. Check how long you can realistically go without income–or this level of income–and start looking into potential ways to change your situation from a 30,000-foot view. If you can’t financially afford to leave at the moment, a few options to consider as you plan your exit include:

  • Do you have PTO time or sick days available to take a short absence and recharge while you plan?

  • Can you afford to cut back your clinical hours some until you’re more financially stable and can transition completely?

  • Can you make lifestyle changes to reduce the amount of income you need to bring home?

  • Are there other non-clinical jobs than the one that you’re considering that will bridge the income gap better as a stepping stone?

  • Can you cut back clinically and add a side gig to supplement your clinical income?

Alternatives to Leaving Clinical Medicine

To recap, if you’re burnt out but unsure if you want to leave medicine altogether, there are several options that can help reduce your stress while allowing you to continue to practice in the field you love.

Renegotiate the Terms of Your Current Job or Find a Different Clinical Job

If you love clinical medicine but hate your J-O-B, try changing jobs within the industry instead of leaving clinical medicine altogether. Oftentimes, it’s the specifics of the job location that are burning you out and making you consider a change, not your actual specialty or clinical work. Negotiating your physician contract can be a great way to set boundaries before you begin your new position to help protect you from the stressors pushing you away from your current employer.

Learn more

Start your own Private Practice

If you have an entrepreneurial spirit and want a lot more control, starting a medical practice, such as a concierge practice or Direct Primary Care (DPC) practice, can offer you clinical work without the headaches of credentialing and billing issues with insurance providers. If the models interest you but you don’t want the responsibility of owning and operating a private practice, consider joining an existing practice.

Learn more

Become a Locum Tenens Physician

If you love the medicine side of clinical work but are reaching a stage in your career where you want more flexibility, consider becoming a locum tenens physician. We’ve seen more and more physicians switching to locums as a permanent career or as a way to start cutting back clinically while exploring other entrepreneurial interests. Locum tenens positions offer more flexibility, along with the possibility of more lucrative pay for a day’s work, allowing you to potentially reduce your working days while keeping the same income.

Cut Back Clinically and Add a Side Gig

If you can’t afford to even cut back your clinical hours, consider a hybrid of part-time clinical work with a supplemental income from a physician side hustle or other revenue stream. Your side gig can be non-medical and even adjacent to the industry you’re interested in eventually shifting to full-time. Sacrificing a portion of your physician salary while picking up an alternative income source may pay better than your desired non-clinical job and can help negate many of the common stressors listed above.

We offer several databases for physicians interested in different side hustles. Explore our jobs page to sign up for any databases relevant to your side gig interested, and we’ll notify you when matching opportunities arise.

Learn more

I've Decided I Want a Non-Clinical Physician Job

If you’ve reviewed the options above and leaving clinical medicine for a non-clinical job is the right fit for you, it’s important to put a plan into place before making the transition. Quitting clinical medicine without knowing what you want to do next, or rushing into a non-clinical job just to escape clinical medicine, could find you transitioning into a situation just as bad–or even worse.

Next to your medical enterprise and years of practice, your professional network is one of the best ways to find and evaluate new opportunities–both inside clinical medicine and for a non-clinical career. If you aren’t active on LinkedIn and haven’t done much networking with other physicians in your industry, start now. Networking at industry events for your non-clinical field of interest is a great way to meet others within the space, putting your name and interest in front of them.

We have additional resources to help you plan your transition wisely:


Whatever you decide, we hope it’s the right decision for you! If it turns out that it’s not, you can always pivot. Life’s too short to stay in a position that you’re unhappy with, so be intentional and create the life in medicine that works for you.

bottom of page