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There are dozens of physician specialties. From hospitalists to cardiologists to surgeons, most physicians focus on one specialty and work strictly within that area of medicine.

Yet some physicians don’t practice medicine at all.

Some physicians work as physician consultants instead.

Today we’re discussing what is physician consulting, where physician consultants work, and who they work for. We’ll also break down the steps you’ll need to take to work in this unique capacity.

Here is our step-by-step guide to becoming a physician consultant.

Table of Contents

1. What is Physician Consulting?
2. Benefits of Working as a Physician Consultant
3. How to Become a Physician Consultant
4. The Timeline: How Long Does it Take to Become a Physician Consultant?
5. Some Physicians Consult on a Part-Time Basis


What is Physician Consulting?

A physician consultant is a licensed medical professional who works on the business side of the healthcare industry. Unlike a traditional physician, a physician consultant does not work directly with patients.

Consultants focus on the industry-client relationship rather than a patient-doctor relationship.

The job of a physician consultant is complicated and can involve a variety of moving parts.

Generally speaking, a consultant’s job is to improve the relations and daily operations of hospitals and medical staff.

Physician consultants can work as an employee of a consulting firm or as an independent contractor. Some even do consult on the side while still practicing medicine and seeing patients.

The goal of the physician consultant varies depending upon who they work for.

In some cases, your goal may be to improve the function of the business. In others, it may be to improve the quality of care for patients. Sometimes, the goal may be to improve the working environment for other physicians in a particular hospital or medical practice.

It’s a unique role that varies greatly in terms of scope and actual responsibilities.

Where Do Physician Consultants Work?

Physician consultants often find work in hospitals and private practices. They may engage in problem-solving to streamline administrative processes or put new ones in place. Consultants also might help to develop future goals or work towards making a hospital or practice more profitable.

Having a consultant do these tasks allows practicing physicians to devote more time to high-quality patient care and clinical practice.

Some physician consultants focus on introducing new technologies to a hospital or health group. They may even assist in electronic medical records software design.

Consultants need to be well-versed in general healthcare policies. They also need to have a solid understanding of how hospitals and practices work.

Most physician consultants work in a specific niche. Many fuse their medical specialties and experience with a specific aspect of the industry that they’re passionate about.

But hospitals and medical centers aren’t the only businesses that hire physician consultants. Attorneys, the federal government, and medical device companies often have a need for consultants as well.

Attorneys often hire physician consultants, and there are a few main reasons why.

Physicians are often called upon to provide expert witness testimony in malpractice cases. When the science behind a case is complex and hard to understand, attorneys rely on doctors to inform the jury of the circumstances. They may also be called upon to testify in a criminal case or a murder trial.

But working with an attorney doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to appear on the witness stand or address a jury. Consultants also work in the pre-trial phase.

Lawyers often hire physicians to simply define injuries and illnesses or provide general medical or mental health information. This is common in preparation for trials.

The federal government also hires physician consultants for very specific situations.

The Social Security Administration sometimes hires consultants to evaluate disability claims. Other agencies, such as the FDA, rely on consultants to provide testimony when they are considering approval for a new medication.

Medical device companies provide further opportunities. They hire consultants to provide advice on new products or to assess liability issues.

From law to technology, working as a physician consultant is a great way to combine your love of medicine with another area of interest or expertise.

How Much Do Physician Consultants Earn?

Like physicians in all specialties, consultants can earn a sizable income, but it varies depending upon where you live.

According to the Economic Research Industry, the average salary for a full-time consultant is $379,412 per year, or $182 per hour. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the average physician’s salary at approximately $100 per hour.

Physician consultants make considerably more money than practicing physicians. And that average salary is expected to grow even more (up to $439,843 per year by 2025).

Benefits of Working as a Physician Consultant

There are a variety of benefits to working as a physician consultant, either as an independent contractor or an employee of a consulting firm.

Here are the six biggest benefits and why they’re so important:

1. Lower Risk

Practicing medicine, seeing patients, and performing medical procedures all come with a great deal of risk. And that risk can be stress-inducing, even on the best and most experienced physicians.

Consultants have considerably less risk.

Your interactions with patients won’t be your primary focus. Instead, they will be replaced by interactions with administrative staff and other physicians. That immediately reduces your risk for medical mistakes and malpractice claims.

2. Higher Income

The more you earn, the more money you should be able to save in retirement.

We discussed above that the average consultant makes nearly double what the average physician earns. That is a huge benefit in the short term, and it can also have a significant impact on your future.

The more you earn now, the more you can save for your retirement.

You might even choose to retire at a younger age, allowing you to focus on your hobbies and other interests (outside of medicine) later in life.

3. Low Overhead

Working as a consultant involves little to no overhead. You won’t have to worry about paying rent for your medical office or practice. You won’t have to pay employee salaries or benefits. Overhead can eat up a sizable chunk of your profits.

The less overhead you have, the more profit you’ll earn.

As a consultant, your overhead can be close to zero.

4. Flexibility

Working as an independent contractor means you’ll have a lot more flexibility in how, when, and where you work.

You’ll be able to choose only the assignments that you want to take on and how many days or hours you want to work per week. You’ll basically be your own boss making all of the decisions for how you want your business to operate.

The flexible nature of this job makes it an attractive option for physicians nearing retirement who may want to slow down and work fewer hours.

5. No On-Call Hours

As a practicing physician, it is common to have to work on-call hours. Physician consultants do not.

As an independent contractor, you cannot be forced to work overtime or work holidays or weekends. You’ll have a much more flexible schedule as a consultant than as a physician in practice.

6. Less Out-of-Pocket Expenses

Malpractice insurance costs an average of $7,500 per year for physicians across all specialties. Surgeons, on the other hand, often pay as high as $50,000 per year.

This is a significant cost that’s required whenever you have patients or perform medical duties. But as a consultant, you won’t need malpractice insurance at all.

It is recommended, however, that consultants carry two other types of insurance: general liability insurance and omissions insurance.

Related: Physician Contracts: Independent Contractor or Employee?


How to Become a Physician Consultant

You have to become a physician before you can become a physician consultant.

Here are the key steps to take in order to follow this unique (and lucrative) career path.

Step 1: Get a Medical Education 

You’ll need the same general background as a physician to work as a physician consultant.

This includes earning your bachelor’s degree, taking the MCAT, graduating from medical school, and doing your residency.

You should also be board certified and licensed to practice medicine in your state.

Though it is rare, some medical students choose to skip their residency programs and go straight into consulting after obtaining their medical degree.

While this may qualify them to be a medical business consultant, it doesn’t make them a true “physician consultant.” In order to be the latter, you need to be a physician first.

Consulting without your medical license and board certification will put great limitations on the type of consulting you can do. To learn how to get your license in California, read this: Steps to Get Licensed With the California Medical Board.

Step 2: Gain Clinical Experience

It’s also important to have clinical care experience as a practicing physician.

Why?

Because consultants need to have a full understanding of what it means to be in the practice of medicine, working with patients.

Understanding patient care is incredibly important. After all, this is at the crux of what it means to be a physician. The more patient experience you have, the more in-demand your consulting skills may be.

It can be extremely helpful to also have training in a unique specialty, such as emergency medicine or internal medicine. The more specialized training and experience you have, the easier it will be to consult in your specific niche.

Consultants also need to have experience in healthcare policy and healthcare financing. As a consultant, you may be tasked with helping a hospital improve billing practices. In a scenario like this, you’ll need to know the ins and outs of how the current financing structure works.

You may not have to deal with patients, but you’ll have to deal with a lot of other members of the hospital staff. That is why you must know how to gather and analyze data. In some cases, consultants work as a sort of liaison between other physicians and administrative staff.

Step 3: Learn the Business of Medicine

To be a successful consultant, you will need a solid understanding of medicine as a business.

You should understand:

Without that knowledge, you probably won’t be able to come up with solutions on how to make improvements.

If you are currently a practicing physician, you are probably well aware of how things operate and the changes you’d like to see put in place. As a physician consultant, you can do exactly that.


The Timeline: How Long Does it Take to Become a Physician Consultant?

Becoming a certified, licensed physician has a rather specific timeline, depending on your chosen specialty.

Becoming a physician consultant does not.

All physicians have to complete four years of college and four years of med school. Where your career goes from there depends on the area you choose to specialize in.

Medical residencies range from three to seven years. Some specialists, such as cardiologists, spend additional years in a fellowship for even more training.

And, as discussed earlier, having clinical experience is an essential part of becoming a consultant.

There is no set time requirement as to how many years you need to practice in order to become a consultant. However, the more experience you have, the easier becoming a consultant will be.

If you’re ready to work full-time as a consultant, you’ll need to decide if you want to work as an employee for a consulting firm or as an independent contractor.

To work independently, start reaching out to colleagues in your network to spread the word about your new venture. If you prefer a full-time position, simply start searching for consulting jobs online or search for a recruiter that has connections in the industry.


Some Physicians Consult on a Part-Time Basis

You don’t have to give up your entire practice or refrain from seeing patients altogether to become a consultant. In fact, some physicians do both.

Some physicians choose to work locum tenens in a hospital two or three days a week and spend the other two or three days a week working as a consultant. That offers a way to put your knowledge and experience into two very different aspects of the healthcare industry at the same time.

If you’ve been in practice for a while, it would be beneficial to bolster your CV by doing continuing education coursework.

Related: The Pros and Cons of Physician Locum Tenens


Ready to follow a new career path or to find a way to supplement your medical practice income?

Looking for a way to put your medical experience to use without having to see patients every day?

A physician consultant position may be the perfect opportunity for you.

For more information on insurance policies and retirement planning services for physician consultants, contact Physicians Thrive now.

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