Written by Ashley Murphy

Medical degrees can take up to six years to complete. Much can happen in that time, and much can change. These changes include you, and during these six years you may realize that being a doctor is not the right career path. This can be very worrying, especially if you have never considered any alternative careers. But don't panic; you haven't wasted the last six years of your life. There are plenty of other job choices within the healthcare sector.

Here are six alternative careers for students with a medical degree.

Health communication/journalism

Becoming a medical writer is an excellent way of sharing all your hard-earned knowledge.  

Medical writers can work for medical communications agencies that provide consultancy services to the pharmaceutical industry, the private sector, and public health bodies. Agencies tend to specialize in certain areas, including legal and regulatory documentation, educational literature, or advertising and marketing.  

A medical writer is an essential and respected position, and many writers play a vital role in the development of new drugs and clinical trials. One of the most critical parts of the job involves writing protocols for studies, as well as recommendations for new medicines and treatments. Depending on how well they present their arguments, medical writers can directly influence public and private healthcare policies.

A medical writer is also responsible for producing medical papers, reviews, manuscripts for publication in medical journals, newsletters, and content for websites. Subsequently, many make a move into journalism, especially if they have gained a reputation for being expert within a particular field. Becoming a medical correspondent, a regular columnist, or even a TV presenter are just some of the exciting options for medical writers interested in journalism.

Given the nature of the job, medical writing is perfect for more academically minded people. It involves hours of rigorous research, the ability to construct cogent arguments, as well as a natural flair for the written word.

Medical teacher

Any qualified medical student will have a vast array of knowledge and expertise that can be shared with other people.

Becoming a medical teacher is a rewarding and varied role. You could find yourself training medical students or veteran doctors, educating members of the public through government-funded community programs, or taking your skills and knowledge abroad to help developing countries improve their healthcare services.

Teaching is an ideal option for people who are looking to make their mark in the medical profession. As well as teaching new students you can also help shape future teaching methods, adapting the curriculum to accommodate advances in medicine, treatment, government policy, and cultural changes. And in today's digital age, such an approach is more critical than ever. Nathaniel Fleming is a fourth-year medical student year who also works as a teaching assistant on a course for the first- and second-year students. He writes, "The digital age has brought a new set of learning methods and resources that were not available to previous generations of medical students. As such, teaching assistants have an unparalleled opportunity to serve as the bridge between students and faculty to help to close this gap and bring medical education into the 21st century."

Forensic medicine

If you decide against becoming a doctor, then you could explore a career in forensic medicine. Forensic specialists examine crime scenes, provide crucial evidence in trials, and support investigations into civil matters, including establishing paternity.

One of their most important functions is to establish a cause of death. This involves a post-mortem examination which looks for signs of external trauma or high levels of toxicity. Their recommendations and assessments play an essential role in the prosecution and defense of criminal suspects. In most countries, forensic doctors are a subset of legal experts who are usually administered by justice departments rather than the healthcare system.

The medical opinion of forensic examiners can have a profound effect on people's lives and the very nature of the legal system. As such, it's imperative that their work is fair and objective. All conclusions should be based on scientific evidence and established medical practices.

In Europe, the majority of forensic scientists are recruited directly from universities, making it a popular and accessible option for medical students. It's a highly competitive field, but the rewards can be significant. Entry-level salaries begin at $100,000, while experienced staff make up to $117,000 a year.

Pharmacist

A pharmacist is primarily responsible for dispensing prescribed medication to members of the public. However, there's much more to the job than merely passing pills over the counter.

Pharmacists are a vital link between the healthcare system and the general public. In addition to filling out prescriptions, pharmacists can assess undiagnosed conditions and offer over-the-counter medication when appropriate. They can also refer patients to a doctor. Such services relieve pressure on overstretched healthcare systems, saving money and by time by reducing the number of unnecessary medical appointments.

Even as a qualified medical student, you will probably need to complete a master's degree to become a pharmacist. Alternatively, you may be able to qualify through a year’s training in a community or hospital pharmacy.

Pharmacists are often important members of their local community. As well as dealing with enquires from new patients, many pharmacists treat and support the same people for years -- and sometimes even for decades. This is especially the case when it comes to helping people with long-term chronic conditions, such as diabetes or epilepsy. Becoming a pharmacist is an ideal option for medical students looking to make a tangible difference within the local community.

Genetics counselor

A genetic counselor is a specialist healthcare professional that evaluates and understands a family's risk of inherited genetic conditions. It's their job to communicate the likelihood of genetic disorders being passed on, as well as explaining the effects and long-term consequences of living with a genetic condition. They then help families decide on any future actions.

Some of these decisions can have profound emotional consequences and are extremely difficult to make. Patients may have to decide whether or not to proceed with a planned or unplanned pregnancy. Because of this, genetic specialists are also trained counselors. Taking a compassionate and empathetic approach to patient care is a crucial part of being a genetic counselor.  

As well as diagnosing genetic disorders, counselors play an active role in the ongoing treatment and care of patients with inherited conditions. Many genetic counselors work with the same patients for years, while others go on to treat their patient's children, and sometimes even their grandchildren. One of the most rewarding aspects of being a genetic counselor is watching patients overcome their health difficulties and starting families of their own.

Genetic counselors also have the opportunity to participate in research. Counselors are trained in gathering information that is useful to researchers, including detailed family histories and long-term changes in symptoms. Genetic counselors have a unique perspective on how inherited diseases and conditions affect peoples lives. This people-centric research is another vital tool for improving the treatment and care of people living with genetic conditions.

And there are plenty of opportunities to build a long and successful career in genetic counseling. Jobs are expected to grow 29 percent by 2024, and the median average salary for genetic counselors in 2015 was $72,090.

Medical photographer

Medical photography is used for diagnosing and recording changes in conditions before, during, and after treatment.  It also documents surgical procedures, medical equipment, and autopsies.

Although the role requires some creative flair, its primary function is to record and document. Medical photography demands a high level of technical skill to present photos that are neither misleading or open to interpretation. Medical photography supports medical research, appears in scientific journals,  and is also used as a teaching resource. In other words, accuracy is paramount.

Medical photographers even work with video, so you will need some editing and production skills. Again, this requires a unique blend of creativity and the scientific method. You may need to record a complicated new surgical procedure. You will need to come up with novel ways of capturing the footage, but the finished work must also be medically accurate.

Other mediums you might find yourself working in include graphic design and illustration. Medical illustrators are responsible for producing artwork for poster and leaflets. They also design the layout for annual reports and other corporate material.

Medical photographers are mostly hospital-based and usually work out of a small studio within a clinic or ward. You will work with a wide range of people including patients, doctors, nurses, and communication staff from marketing and PR departments.

To qualify as a clinical photographer you will need a degree in photography and a postgraduate certificate in clinical photography. In the UK, NHS clinical photographers earn between £28,050 - £41,644 per annum. 

These are just six of the jobs you can do with your medical degree. A medical degree is a very valuable qualification that can open many doors. Even if you decide against a career in medicine, employers from other industries are likely to see your potential as a hard-working and dedicated member of staff.

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