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Exploring New Horizons With Your Medical Training


Terry Arnold, PA-C, shared his journey and advice for PAs and NPs looking to transition out of a clinical practice.

At the 2024 Fall Clinical Dermatology Conference for PAs and NPs in Scottsdale, Arizona, Terry Arnold, PA-C, vice president of medical affairs at DermTech, wanted to address advance practitioners looking for a change of pace during a session titled "What Else Can I Do With My Medical Training?" In this session, Arnold shared his journey from serving as a dermatology physician assistant to a clinical expert in the pharmaceutical industry, providing valuable insights and advice for clinicians considering alternative career paths.

Arnold, who has spent the better part of 20 years practicing dermatology, spoke to Dermatology Times with heartfelt enthusiasm about his career transition. "I had the pleasure and the honor of practicing medicine for the better part of 20 years," he began. "It was what I always wanted to do, even from the time I was a little kid. After 20 years, I felt completely fulfilled but still wanted something more, something different. I wanted to use some other skills that I didn't feel I was able to flex in the clinic."

He believes this sentiment resonates with many clinicians who, after years of dedicated practice, seek new challenges and opportunities. Arnold emphasized the versatility of medical training, noting, "The world is your oyster. There are so many things you can do with your medical training. The knowledge and skill set you’ve developed in your years of clinic time translate well to a lot of different industries and opportunities."

A significant portion of Arnold's session focused on the various industries where medical professionals can apply their expertise. "The pharmaceutical industry probably makes the most sense for most clinicians at this point," Arnold explained. "But it’s not just pharma—there's also device and diagnostics. It's a pretty big umbrella when you talk about industry."

One of the most sought-after roles within the pharmaceutical industry is that of a medical science liaison (MSL). Arnold shared, "I probably get at least 2 phone calls every week about how to become an MSL. It's very popular, but even MSL is just one aspect. There are clinical educators, thought leader liaisons, medical information, medical review—there's a broad array of opportunities beyond MSL."

Arnold’s own journey into the pharmaceutical industry began in 2017 when he transitioned from clinical practice to a role in medical affairs at AbbVie. "When I made that transition, I was kind of the lone ranger," he recalled. "I was the first PA hired in medical affairs at AbbVie. It was a very fulfilling job, and I really learned a lot from it."

He acknowledged that the transition required proving himself in a new environment. "People were looking to see if this could really work because we’d never had a PA in this role before. So, I really felt the need to prove myself," Arnold said. "These are competitive, highly sought-after jobs, and you can't just rely on your history as a clinician to succeed."

Arnold highlighted the importance of 2 key elements for success in any career transition: leadership and communication. "What sets people apart, whether in clinical practice or industry, is how good a communicator you are. There are interpersonal communications, public speaking, and more. If you can master communications, you can find success in virtually any industry," he said.

He also touched on the value of additional training and certifications saying, "There are online certificate programs, and platforms like LinkedIn offer a lot of training. While advanced degrees like a PhD can be a difference maker, I’m not sure if they are worth the investment solely to get into industry."

Despite the rewards of his new career, Arnold admitted he misses the direct patient interaction. "I miss the one-to-one interaction with patients,” he explained. “But I reconcile this by knowing I'm still making an impact in a broader way. I’ve been able to impact the clinical decision-making of a broad range of healthcare providers."

Arnold’s session concluded with a thoughtful reflection on career transitions. "For me, dermatology has always been the promise land. Sometimes, when counseling people, I suggest they figure out if there's something wrong with their current situation that can be fixed. Maybe you just need to tweak something and still continue to practice. Jumping into something completely different requires a lot of introspective consideration."

His advice to those contemplating a career change was clear: "Ask yourself, why do I want this? What's wrong with my current situation? Is it fixable? If it's not and you decide you need a change, go after it. Talk to people, consult your personal board of advisors, and pursue it with confidence."


Arnold T. What else can I do with my medical training? Presented at: 2024 Fall Clinical Dermatology Conference for PAs and NPs; May 31-June 2, 2024; Scottsdale, AZ

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