Do you enjoy medicine and wish you had time to learn more about interesting cases?  Would you like to have more time to discuss cases with other physicians?  Are you analytical yet approachable? Do you enjoy solving problems and teaching others with varying backgrounds? Do you like to learn? Would you like to have evenings, weekends and holidays free to spend with your family? Would you like to not worry about getting sued? If any of this applies to you, then please take the time to read the following information about a career as a life insurance medical director.


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The work is intellectually challenging and often requires creative problem solving that is not encumbered by the cloud of medical liability. The ideal candidate is a physician with the skills and knowledge of their board certified clinical specialty that can develop the expertise of determining the mortality risk of life insurance applicants. The typical medical director is a residency trained, board certified licensed physician with 5 or more years of clinical experience. The Board of Insurance Medicine provides a pathway to board certification in Insurance Medicine.


What do medical directors do?       

The primary responsibility of most life insurance medical directors is assessing the mortality risk of individuals applying for life insurance. The individual cases are usually referred from underwriters to the medical director for assessment. In some companies, the job may also entail making a morbidity risk assessment on products such as disability or long-term care insurance. The medical director reviews clinical records as well as interprets electrocardiograms, including stress tests.  In that role, you are no longer responsible for treating patients’ individual diseases but, rather, understanding the disease(s) and their associated risk factors and how they affect prognosis and, ultimately, the impact on longterm mortality and/or morbidity risk.  In general, one will see common as well as rare disorders (often far more than would be encountered in clinical practice), because the cases are pre-screened and referred to the medical department due to their complexity or their potential risk.


How do you learn to be a medical director?

Life insurance medical directors acquire these new skills by building on the skills and knowledge they already have as a practicing physician. Medical directors acquire these new skills working with an established medical director, with additional opportunities to attend medical seminars arranged by AAIM and other organizations. AAIM provides this career development in a number of ways including an annual educational meeting, interactive webcasts and through written material in The Journal of Insurance Medicine.


How is it different from clinical medicine?    

You don’t have to give up the clinical acumen developed over years of practice but, rather, use it in a somewhat different way. The major difference between clinical and insurance medicine is the time frame that is involved and end point of the analysis. In both worlds a prognostic assessment is made based on symptoms, signs and the flow of events in the case. In the clinical world one sees the actual patient and the major goals are to make a short term decision regarding the need for acute treatment, the requirement for further testing or how soon to schedule a follow-up visit. As a life insurance medical director, one reviews medical records instead of a patient. Otherwise one makes the same prognostic assessment but with a different end point. The decision is really about what is, on average, the long-term morbidity or mortality risk for the set of facts for the case in question. Once that decision is made one moves on to the next case.


Some examples of insurance medical directors

The names are fictional but are based on real medical directors.


Dr. Ann Smith, Internist

Dr. Ann Smith is a board certified internist. She was in clinical practice for 14 years in a mid-sized multi-specialty group. For the last five years she has worked full time with another physician at a life insurance company. Dr. Smith finds the work intellectually rewarding and enjoys being able to solve problems that require research and reasoning.  Dr. Smith says she made the change for many reasons including what she described as a more livable schedule. She comments that with life insurance she is no longer responsible for treating patients’ individual diseases but understanding the disease(s) and their associated risk factors and how they affect mortality. 


Dr. Allen Jones, Family Practice

Dr. Allen Jones is a board certified specialist in family medicine. He was in clinical practice in the Midwest for about 10 years. He has worked in life insurance for 8 years. He initially worked part-time for a life insurance company while maintaining a part time clinical practice.. He enjoyed the work at the life insurance company enough that when the company offered him a full-time position he was eager to make the change. When asked what aspect of his position that he enjoys the most, he replied that he enjoys teaching the underwriters both individually and in groups. He also enjoys the increased time he has at home with his family. He enjoys seeing common as well as rare disorders because the cases he reviews are pre-screened and referred to him due to their complexity or their perceived risk. He also is a medical consultant for other product lines including disability and long-term care.


Dr. Charles McIntyre, Pulmonologist

Dr. Charles McIntyre is a board certified pulmonologist. He was in clinical practice for almost twenty years. He then worked as a medical director with a large life insurer for eight years. He and his family moved to another state and his company offered him the opportunity to continue to work from his new home. He travels to the office two days a month to attend meetings and to give presentations.


Dr. Rachel Frank, Cardiologist

Dr. Rachel Frank is a board certified cardiologist. She was in clinical practice in a large multi-specialty group on the west coast for 8 years. She sought other opportunities in medicine and chose a career with a large life reinsurance company. With her background in cardiology, she helps develop underwriting policy for her company in addition to giving frequent presentations in a variety of interesting locations.




Below are samples of articles published in JIM, the Journal of Insurance Medicine, and a Webinar presentation. AAIM membership includes online access to the JIM and the online Webinars.  Be sure to open both the presentation and the audio links on the sample webinar.


"On the Potential Insurability of HIV”  by John White


"HIV: A Chronic Condition”  by Dan Zimmerman


"Mortality and Risk Stratification of HIV Infected Individuals”  by Brad Heltemes


"The Wolf-Parkinson-White ECG Pattern - Assessing the Mortality Risk" by Emoke Posan


"Lacunar Infarction, Mortality Over Time and Mortality Relative to Other Ischemic Strokes", by Rob Lund in 2014


"Opiod Use and Medical MJ - A Review of the data and an approach to underwriting" - Cliff Titcomb's 5/14/14 Webinar (MP3)


Have Questions?

CONTACT US to get in touch with a medical director already working in the industry.




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