When physicians start a job search, the biggest challenge is often their unfamiliarity with the process. Few residents, fellows or physicians know how to start, when to start, where to look or who to turn to for advice as they begin looking for their first full-time job.
This was certainly true for Elizabeth Chiang, M.D., Ph.D., an ophthalmologist with Ice Ophthalmology in Painesville, Ohio. She says she received no guidance about the job search in medical school or residency. “They didn’t tell us anything about getting a job,” she recalls. “No one talks about it whatsoever.”
And to complicate matters further, “there’s nothing really typical” about how physicians find jobs, according to Tim Ketterman, vice president of operations at Metropolis and Adaptive Medical Partners, a national physician recruiting firm based in Irving, Texas. He explains, “[It] really depends on the provider, the specialty and what they’re looking for in a practice.”
Know what you’re looking for
The good news? There are a lot of ways to go about finding a job. But you should start by considering what you’re looking for. Ketterman says about 80 percent of the residents he speaks with have not actually thought about their ideal job. That makes it more difficult for recruiters to provide guidance.
There are literally hundreds of factors to consider when exploring employment options, but Ketterman recommends focusing on four main areas: geography, compensation, quality of life and quality of practice. Ultimately, he says, everything else falls under one of those basic categories.
He suggests thinking about these categories on a scale of zero to 100 and assigning each a numerical value. All four combined should equal 100, like so:
Geography + Compensation + Quality of Life + Quality of Practice = 100
If geography is the most important criteria, you might give a score of 50. That leaves another 50 points to be allocated across compensation, quality of life and quality of practice. And if, for example, 50 percent of your focus is being in a big city, you may have to make concessions in compensation and perhaps take more patients or more call.
On the other hand, if compensation is the driving factor, the other three elements will become secondary considerations. You may land a job with above-average compensation, but it might not be your preferred type of patient care in your preferred location with your preferred schedule.
In Chiang’s case, geography came first. Her husband was working in Cleveland, Ohio, where she’s from. She knew she wanted to practice there, too.
Start with outreach
Once you’ve decided on a location, the next step is reaching out to explore what kinds of opportunities there are. Chiang knew Cleveland had three big hospital systems, so she says, “I started inquiring about the possibility of an opening at each of them.”
The chairman at Northwestern, where she had done her residency, knew the chairman at one of those systems, so he put them in touch. That led to a series of interviews with ophthalmologists on a day when she was in town, and these eventually led to an offer.
Ketterman also recommends calling or emailing local employers directly. “There’s not a medical facility in the country that, if a doctor knocked on their door right now, they wouldn’t take [an opportunity to chat],” Ketterman says. “There are more jobs than doctors.”
Give yourself plenty of time
One of the biggest misconceptions about the job hunt is when to start. In medicine, it’s almost never too early, although most people start looking about a year in advance. For example, if your fellowship ends in June of one year, you’ll want to start looking the August before.
“If you’re in a one-year fellowship, you’re applying as you start your fellowship,” explains Chiang. Since her fellowship was a two-year commitment, she didn’t begin looking until the start of her second year. “I got to do a year of fellowship before I was really looking hard,” she says.
Of course, if you’re deeper into your career, your job search might not start on a specific timetable. That was the case for Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber , M.D., professor of medicine at the Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership in Athens, Georgia. For 12 years, Rohr-Kirchgraber spent 40% of her time running a women’s center in Indianapolis and the other 60% on clinical work. Then change started happening around her.
“My roles within the university were changing a bit, and my family had moved,” she explains. She initially intended to travel during her spare time to see those family members, but COVID upended her plans. She wasn’t able to hop on a plane as easily, and she started thinking about moving closer.
Turn to people in the know
After 12 weeks of essentially being homebound and shut off from family, Rohr-Kirchgraber decided in July 2020 to explore opportunities closer to them. She first turned to colleagues in the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA), since she had previously been its president.
When she started her search, she was very open to any new opportunities. Tapping into her AMWA network led her to learn more about being an expert medical witness, medical writer and medical science liaison. “It was really helpful to have that network of folks that I could talk to,” she says. They also helped her land interviews for some of those positions.
Similarly, Chiang and the other three members of her residency cohort turned to their immediate network: the people in the year ahead of them. “We heard what they were doing, that they were interviewing, so we would talk amongst ourselves,” she says. But when she opted for a two-year fellowship after residency, Chiang had only one other doctor in the year ahead of her. She needed more advice, so she started reaching out to ophthalmologists in her target city.
Weigh your practice options
Although Chiang seriously considered starting her own practice after her fellowship, as a co-fellow above her had done, she ultimately decided she wanted to have a traditional job first.
Instead of continuing to explore the opportunities for referrals from Cleveland-area physicians, she pivoted to searching for full-time employment. Her first step was posting her CV on the American Academy of Ophthalmology website.
She also contacted some recruiters and received inquiries from other recruiters about current and future openings. By expanding her geographic search area beyond Cleveland, Chiang found a position at a practice in Chesapeake, Virginia. She stayed there for nearly three years before deciding to return to Cleveland.
Polish your CV
“Most of the time, academic CVs are very boring and very dry,” Rohr-Kirchgraber says. “They don’t really explain a lot of what you’re doing.” To convey her job responsibilities more clearly, she rearranged hers as a summary résumé. This explains your responsibilities and accomplishments at each organization.
“It’s a way of highlighting those things that you are the most passionate about and that you want to do,” she explains. If you’re a practicing physician, she suggests including information about your productivity, patient satisfaction scores or awards.
Rohr-Kirchgraber also recommends cleaning up your online profile. “Put in your name and see if there are pictures of you drinking from high school or college that need to be deleted or statements that you made about political activities that might rub people the wrong way,” she suggests. Essentially, clean up your online persona so that potential employers only see is what is relevant.
Cast a wide net
Rohr-Kirchgraber turned to the Association of American Medical Colleges website to find opportunities in the educational world because she had previously held medical school faculty positions. She also used LinkedIn, noting it’s “probably not something that physicians use a lot.”
Other recruitment websites, such as PracticeLink.com, allow candidates to search current job openings based on specific parameters, explains Ken Allman, founder and CEO of PracticeLink. Within the job board, physicians can filter positions based on everything from location to student loan repayment, visa assistance, inpatient or outpatient care, part-time or full-time work and call schedule.
Getting an overall sense of available jobs, who is hiring and what their expectations are is a good way to start a search. Then once you’ve found a role you’re interested in, you can submit a CV and begin speaking directly with recruiters.
Reach out to recruiters
“At PracticeLink.com, we are committed to providing physicians and advanced practitioners with an easy, simple and confidential way of searching, finding and responding to practice opportunities posted by ‘in-house’ recruiters representing more than 5,000 hospitals, health care systems, medical groups and organizations of all kinds across town and across the country,” Allman says. “Many in-house recruiters are credentialed by the Association for Advancing Physician and Provider Recruitment (AAPPR.org) and are employed by the same organizations they represent.”
Other recruitment professionals include those employed by retained or contingent physician recruitment agencies or recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) organizations. Retained search firms have an ongoing relationship with an employer and are paid an ongoing fee to find and recruit physicians. Contingent search firms are typically hired on an as-needed basis and are paid only when they fill positions. Both types may represent positions at several different organizations.
Many contingency and retained recruiters are members of the National Association of Physician Recruiters (NAPR.org). Some health care organizations outsource their provider recruitment efforts to RPOs. The final classification of recruiters include those employed by locum tenens organizations to represent locum tenens opportunities across many different health care organizations. Many locum tenens organizations are members of the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations (NALTO.org).
Make some cold calls
While relying on recruiter outreach can be efficient, it’s not the only approach. Chiang also dropped by a number of practices in person. Instead of emailing or sending letters, she says, “It seemed like showing up and seeing if someone would talk to me would be the best way. So that’s what I did.”
Sometimes she would be turned away, but she always left her business card in case a physician on staff was interested in speaking with her later. In one case, she was still in the parking lot when her cell phone rang. The physician on the other end of the line asked, “Are you still close by? I can talk to you.” Chiang went back in and talked to them.
Chiang also suggests speaking with multiple people within a practice. “One person may be thinking about going part-time or leaving but [they may not have] talked to anyone else in their practice about that,” she says.
After a discussion with one person, you may think there are no openings, but in a second or third discussion, you may discover there’s going to be an opening soon. Expand your network and stay in touch with new connections to uncover hidden opportunities on the horizon.
Feel confident in your decision
After exploring so many options, you want to make an employment choice that meets your needs and your family’s. Sometimes, that’s hard to do when you’re overwhelmed with opportunities. That’s why Ketterman recommends considering at least one job outside the description you’ve outlined as your best fit.
“Have one that may be the perfect professional opportunity but might be located in an area that you didn’t think you would consider,” he suggests. “One of the biggest mistakes I see new grads make is they look at a bunch of opportunities that are all the same because they’re limiting themselves geographically or to certain elements. And it’s hard to make a decision if you don’t have contrast.”
By looking at something outside the box, you’ll reduce the chances you regret your choice. Physicians who don’t expand their choices are often the ones who end up looking again in three years because they decide they want something different.
“Depending on their specialty, interests and qualifications, many physicians can live and work anywhere they want,” Allman says. “So we suggest they think about their personal needs, their professional needs and their family’s needs” as they start their job search. “Oftentimes in the first job search, the fit in the organization isn’t necessarily their recognized priority,” he explains. However, fit is what makes the difference between finding a job and building a long-term career.