January 3, 2021

Alternative Career Paths in Medicine: Consulting

Work, Activities, and Extracurriculars

Ever thought about pursuing a career in management consulting with your medical degree? I know I have. Amongst the myriad options you have to pursue with a background in medicine, consulting stands out for its fast-paced, intellectually gratifying, and impactful work. And who doesn’t love frequent traveling for work? In this blog post, we’re going to explore the reasons why MDs pursue management consulting as an alternative career path, along with reasons why management consulting firms love to hire physicians. We’ll also look at some existing opportunities for current pre-medical students and medical students who are interested in taking a year off during medical school to pursue a stint in consulting. Ready? Let’s go!

Why Do Medical Students Want to Pursue a Career in Consulting Over Clinical Practice?

When asked about their motivation to pursue consulting, some medical students cite their desire to use their analytical capabilities and problem-solving skills to help improve healthcare services for underserved populations [1]. The healthcare landscape in the United States is complex and ever-changing; hence, it requires new ways of thinking about solving pressing problems. It also gives students an opportunity to learn about consulting, software, policy, and management fields that most physicians have a limited knowledge base of. 


Working as a consultant empowers students to feel a sense of accomplishment and productivity when they make recommendations to a client. It also provides students with great networking opportunities and a skillset that will likely enable them to run their own business (venture capital, start-up) or private practice in the future. 


Other students express concerns regarding the length of residency training, bureaucracy in clinical medicine, student debt, and the desire to learn about the business and operations side of healthcare as reasons for going into consulting. 


After completing their clinical training, physicians may cite “fears of reaching a professional plateau” and the “challenge of continually working on new problems and shaping new industries as a source of professional satisfaction.” Importantly, Dr. Michael P. Ennen wrote in his JAMA article, “The War for Talent: Physicians in Management Consulting” that doctors are attracted to consulting because it offers them the opportunity to address “key strategic issues for industry in generating new knowledge, and in working pro bono for the environmental, educational, and public health organizations in their communities [2].”


This all being said, one factor to be mindful of when considering a career in consulting is timeframe. In other words, you need to consider whether consulting is something more short-term or long-term in your career trajectory. This is an incredibly important factor to reflect upon because of the opportunity cost involved in taking a year off during medical school to pursue consulting. If you decide to come back to clinical medicine, you may end up delaying getting a salary equivalent to an attending’s in your respective field. Additionally, consulting at one of the “Big Three” firms (McKinsey, Bain and Co., and Boston Consulting Group) is notoriously difficult to get into; they mostly accept students from name-brand schools and with strong academic credentials. The application process is rigorous and when students are finally granted a job offer as an entry-level consultant, they work incredibly hard with long hours and frequent travel. 


Why Do Management Consulting Firms Hire Physicians?

There is a strong demand to hire physicians at leading management consulting firms across the United States. Physicians have a demonstrated track record for a strong work ethic, critical thinking, problem solving, and an ability to quickly learn and apply knowledge to a wide variety of scenarios [3]. Due to the demands and rigor of their clinical training, physicians are also able to quickly develop rapport and trust with their clients. Additionally, many clients that approach big-time firms like McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain and Co. are immersed in the health care industry; this not only includes hospital systems around the United States who are looking to improve quality and clinical outcomes at their institutions, but also pharmaceutical and biotech companies.  


What Are Some Consulting Opportunities I Can Look Into As a Medical Student? 


  1. McKinsey MD Fellow


This program is two years in length and is targeted at current second and third year medical students. Consultants will work on teams of 3-5 members engaging clients and working on complex problems. The fellowship takes place between third and fourth year of medical school. Fellows are given access to 2.5 weeks of professional development and McKinsey’s library of ~500 learning modules. 


You can learn more about the fellowship here: https://www.mckinsey.com/careers/search-jobs/jobs/mdfellow-19597#


  1. Boston Consulting Group MD Scholars Program


Medical students in their third and fourth years of medical school in the United States are given the opportunity to work with healthcare payers, providers, pharmaceutical companies, and medical technology companies. MD Scholars are provided with intensive consulting training at the beginning of their program. Scholars are expected to return to finish their MD degree following their time at BCG. Those scholars who perform well may be extended a full-time job offer after graduation from medical school. 


You can learn more about BCG MD Scholar Program here: https://www.bcg.com/en-us/careers/students/md-scholar-program


  1. Bain and Company ADvantage Program

The Bain and Co.’s ADvantage Program is a week-long internship program for graduate students, medical residents, and post-doctoral researchers designed to give them an idea of what life is like as a Bain consultant. Participants of the program are paired with a consultant mentor who guides them through their time on a Bain case team.


More information on the ADvantage Program can be found here: https://www.bain.com/careers/meet-us/advantage/ 


References

  1. https://news.feinberg.northwestern.edu/2018/04/medical-student-applies-consulting-background-to-healthcare-problems/
  2. Ennen MP. The War for Talent: Physicians in Management Consulting. JAMA. 2001;285(17):2252. doi:10.1001/jama.285.17.2252-JMS0502-5-1.
  3. https://lookforzebras.com/consulting-programs/

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