Quitting Medical Residency: Quitting Residency During Intern Year And After. Is it possible to quit residency and still work as a doctor or get another job outside clinical medicine?
What happens when a medical resident quits their job? When a future doctor walks away from a residency program—is that the end of their medical career?
Is quitting residency during the intern year or afterwards possible? What happens after quitting medical residency?
I’m Dr. Pamela Wible and I help doctors who quit residency launch successful careers. I’ve helped more than 600 doctors launch their ideal clinic, coaching, and consulting practices. You have many choices if you leave residency.
Here are all the amazing choices you have. Keep reading (& take notes) . . .
Residency is an important part of medical training. Medical school trains us in the basics of health sciences and clinical practice.
Residency training establishes a doctor’s comfort level with general patient care. And a medical residency prepares a doctor for their specialty, such as family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, or general surgery.
While a residency program is an important part of medical education, completing the program is not always necessary as part of a health career path. Doctors who have completed their intern year have dropped out and launched successful independent clinics. Here are 14 reasons to quit residency.
What kind of doctor can you be without graduating from residency?
Becoming a licensed doctor requires following state laws and fulfilling state requirements. Some states might require that physicians complete a full residency.
However, many states allow medical professionals who have a medical degree and a year of internship, to become general practitioners. A GP is able to see patients, prescribe medications, perform minor office procedures, and much more.
Can a GP see patients in the hospital? Unfortunately, for the GP, most hospitals require a full residency and specialty certification in order to join the hospital staff. However, you can still visit your patients in the hospital and bill for your time—even if you are not on hospital staff or writing orders in the official hospital electronic record.
What about going to work for a health corporation as a primary care doctor? Many large health organizations require doctors to be board certified. In order to get board certified, the doctor must complete their full residency.
So if completing a single internship year after medical school can qualify a doctor to get their license and practice as a GP, what can they really do to make a living?
If you want to be a doctor, and you can get your license to practice medicine, you do not need any more residency training.
This medical career advice is counterintuitive for many young doctors. Starting from a very young age, they learn that more education leads to more opportunities.
The medical education system takes advantage of this learned response. Where did all of these credentialing organizations come from, with their exorbitant fees, endless exams, and modules?
All you need is one more certification, one more fellowship, one more exam—and your career will really take off. How many multimillionaire employed doctors are there who get to go home early and spend time with their family?
All of those additional credentials that they want you to chase after don’t add much to your income or your freedom. They simply take away time from your life and money from your bank account.
I recommend that doctors stop “hoarding” diplomas, degrees, and certificates—and just get going. You can launch your own clinic for less than $3000!
The truth is that you can practice as a doctor successfully without completing a full residency of three years or more. The secret is to go into business for yourself.
How do you become an akathisia specialist?
Have you ever heard of akathisia? Maybe you have, or maybe you have not.
Akathisia is one of many rare adverse reactions listed in the literature for certain prescription drugs. These drugs include benzodiazepines and many antidepressants and antipsychotics.
How does someone become an akathisia specialist? Akathisia is a movement disorder, so would you complete a full neurology residency to become a board-certified neurologist?
Interestingly, many people who suffer from akathisia find no relief from seeing neurologists, psychiatrists, or any other kind of specialist. They are looking for a doctor who will listen to them, understand what they are going through, and give them hope for the future, because akathisia can take a very long time to go away.
No residency can teach what you need to know to be a sought-after expert on this subject. What you need is experience working with patients who have this condition.
By listening to your patients carefully, and doing some home study, you can become one of the world’s foremost experts on akathisia. At least, you will be an expert at truly helping people who are looking for a doctor to listen to them and take their concerns seriously.
Some doctors are cognitive specialists and some are proceduralists. What is the difference?
Proceduralists focus on surgical or technical procedures—like hip replacements or lung transplants. Cognitive specialists and medical puzzle solvers who generally do not perform procedures. Proceduralists need lots of experience and board certification to practice as neurosurgeons in big hospitals.
Cognitive specialists can literally be a specialist in any medical condition—like akathesia.
So what do you want to focus on? Maybe you want to help people with fibromyalgia, or chronic pain, or addiction.
Why would you want to avoid becoming board certified in addiction if you want to treat addiction?
There are doctors who want to help people who suffer from addictions. Often their first thought is to get board certified in addiction medicine.
You can do a fellowship, take an exam, and become a board-certified addiction specialist. It sounds impressive—and comes with a very expensive certificate.
Yet I have known of board-certified addiction doctors who told their patients to stop taking Suboxone at 2 mg. If you have experience in treating opioid addiction with Suboxone, you know that this dose is too high.
More importantly, addiction credentialing boards are often in bed with the 12-step recovery community. How can a modern physician credentialing organization recommend using a recovery tool, such as the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is outdated and has been proven to be ineffective?
Why would they teach their doctors in training to recommend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, where group members tend to be against modern medical treatment for addiction? If the credentialing board is back in the stone ages—why would you want their overpriced certificate?
Sometimes there is no board certification available for the condition you are interested in treating.
This month marks my 10-year anniversary of running a free doctor suicide helpline. I didn’t complete a residency in psychiatry and had no special training in doctor suicide. is there a doctor suicide fellowship? No. I learned on the job. I’ve spoken to thousands of suicidal med students and doctors from all across the globe.
You might be wondering how I began the unusual job of running a free doctor suicide helpline—without any training.
I never decided to run a doctor suicide helpline. Doctors just kept calling me and thanking me for saving their lives and their careers. So I kept answering the phone. I am an example of a doctor who just quit big-box assembly-line medicine way back nearly 20 years ago to live my dream in my own ideal clinic—with so much free time that I could start a hobby running a physician suicide helpline—as a family physician.
I was once suicidal. Work-related. “Assembly-line medicine” drove me to my wits end. I quit my job. I was in bed for weeks. I wanted to die. I felt the career I worked my whole life for was over. Back in 2004, I thought I was the only suicidal doctor in the whole world.
I’m passionate about doctor suicide prevention because I survived my own suicidal thoughts.
Later, I learned that both men that I dated in med school died by suicide (not while they were dating me, but as married “successful” doctors in the prime of their careers). Then I lost three doctors died by suicide in my small town within just over a year.
After years of speaking about doctor suicide on TV and writing books, and answering phone calls from suicidal doctors—I became known as a specialist in doctor suicide—now with my own Wikipedia page!
You can be the world expert in anything that you have passion for and a desire to share with others.
You can work as a general practitioner with a one-year internship and become an expert in your field.
These examples above demonstrate how a doctor who has not completed a full residency or received board certification in the area that they want to specialize in can still excel—and become the leader in their field. You don’t need more training. You need more experience.
You DO need passion and dedication and a desire to live your dream as the healer you were born to be on this planet.
You also need to overcome your FEAR.
Imagine how you would feel to complete many years of residency, only to find that you are not going to use what you trained for. I have known surgeons who ended up working as family practitioners—or Uber drivers!
A general surgery residency is six years, compared to three years for family practice. Following that career path would lead to three additional years of tortuous residency that you may end up not using.
I have known board-certified family physicians who went into business for themselves and found they never needed their board certification for their work. They realized that they spent two unnecessary extra years in residency, and they took overpriced exams and subjected themselves to unnecessary, additional rules.
You may feel that you are limiting your options by choosing less postgraduate education, but you are actually expanding your options. You have many more options when you accept that you CAN go into business for yourself.
What can a doctor do if they skip medical residency altogether?
What if you show up on the first day of residency and tell your program director that you are quitting. Or what if you fail to obtain a residency spot.
I doubt there is a state where you can practice medicine right out of medical school without some kind of post-graduate training. You most likely need at least a one-year internship, or you are going to have to consider non-clinical jobs.
Still, it is possible to see this situation as an opportunity to rethink your relationship with med school and clinical work. Think about what you learned in medical school. What is the true value of a medical education beyond being a prerequisite for licensure?
We are witnessing a mass physician exodus—from doctoring to health coaching.
As a medical student, you probably never contemplated finishing medical school and then not working as a licensed doctor. You imagined getting a residency position and completing the grueling years of residency in order to become board certified in your specialty.
What would you say if I told you that many doctors who have practiced for decades just want out? They hate working as licensed doctors with the weight of potential legal threats and legal responsibilities always hanging over their heads. They hate their jobs so much they call my suicide helpline!
Many doctors dream of finding a way to make a living that does not depend on their medical license. They wish they could transport back in time, before they took on the responsibility of patient records and medical cases, where the discovery process of a future malpractice case can start at any time.
What is your future self telling you to do?
Considering a nonclinical career or a career change from medicine is not at all a sign of failure. Maybe it is a sign of waking up to the truth about the state of health care.
Why is there a physician shortage in our country? And why does it seem as if medical institutions don’t care about the shortage?
From their perspective, they can just make the doctors who are still left in the field work harder. They can hire more nurse practitioners and physician assistants to pick up the slack.
To health executives, a physician shortage is an opportunity for them to save money for the shareholders and boost their own compensation packages. They don’t care if you fail in your career because they see you as an overpriced commodity. They do not even care if you die by suicide. To them, you are just a provider—an economic unit they can replace, often at lower cost.
What is your future self telling you? Is your wise inner voice telling you to please stay out of clinical medicine?
It may seem like an overwhelming challenge in the short term, yet building a business or career that leverages your medical school experience without requiring you to see patients might be worth it. When you open your mind and heart to what you are capable of—the possibilities are truly endless.
What can a doctor without a license do?
When you graduated from medical school, you earned the title “doctor.” You have a doctorate degree in allopathic or osteopathic medicine.
From the point of view of the public, you are an expert in health-related fields, or you have the capability to quickly develop expertise. People value your thoughts, ideas, and opinions.
Med school graduates have gone into business, opening clinics where they hired other doctors to see the patients. Other graduates went into health consulting or nutritional consulting, for supplement companies, for example.
If you feel unqualified for these jobs, or other possibilities, now is the time to overcome your self-imposed limitations. Now is the time to change your mindset and to realize that you are capable of achieving far more than you can currently imagine.
Now is the time to overcome your fear.
If things don’t go as planned, you can always get back on track with residency, You can re-apply to residency if you want a future clinical career. Just because you do not finish within a certain number of years does not mean that your medical career is over.
If you are having second thoughts about finishing residency, or you have been confronted with an issue that stops you from completing residency—think of it as an opportunity. You now have some time to take a step back and rethink the rest of your life.
By taking a moment to step off the hamster wheel, you have been given an amazing second chance to avoid pushing through a career that might not be fulfilling in the way you imagined it would be. Rather than falling into the trap of a miserable doctor job, you have been given the time and space to get up, walk around, and build a new and better future for yourself.
Whether you choose to build a life around a non-clinical career, or to move forward with a clinical career on your own terms, make your own decision. You own your life. You get to decide how to design it in the best possible way to bring yourself ultimate fulfillment and happiness.