Whether you’re a newcomer to medicine or a seasoned pro looking for your next opportunity, the way you conduct a job search can mean the difference between stumbling to failure—or surfing to success.
Since your objective is to find a position that checks all the right boxes, you want to be both efficient and effective. So, what’s the best strategy for putting you on the right track and keeping you there?
As simple as it sounds, a job-search timeline can help you weed out the least important chores in favor of the most important tasks. Plotting your course is a quick and easy way to clarify the “what,” “when” and “why” involved in identifying—and pursuing—your best options. From there, it’s just a matter of sticking to the strategy until your plan yields the ripest fruit.
“A timeline can help you hone where you want to practice, where you want to grow your skills and where you want to start your life out of training,” says Kim Collins, MBA, CMSR, lead physician recruiter for Annapolis, Maryland-based Luminis Health (formerly Anne Arundel Medical Center). “So, a lot of thought needs to go into it.”
Usiwoma Abugo, M.D., agrees, describing a timeline as “crucial” for making progress. “We have so many things on our plate, it’s easy to let months go by without doing anything concrete to accomplish our goals,” notes the practicing ophthalmic plastic/reconstructive surgeon who is the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s clinical spokesperson. “I’m grateful that I started early, used all the resources at my disposal and had a timeline to keep me on track.”
So, what’s a good timeframe for a timeline? Although some experts say two years prior to finishing your training is optimal, a good search rule of thumb is to launch 12 months before graduation, with the heavy lifting during the first six months, from July to January. That allows you a decent lead time not only to settle on your ideal spot, but also to secure your credentials and take all the steps necessary to start shortly after July 1. “You want to be ready to hit the ground running,” says Washington, D.C.,-area pediatric emergency medicine specialist Matthew Lecuyer, M.D., MPH.
By breaking down your search into manageable segments, you can control this critical phase in your life. Let’s look.
Phase 1: Soul-search and organize
The first two months of your timeline are key. You won’t have a productive job hunt, much less a satisfying outcome, if you don’t establish from the get-go what you want and strategize how you’ll achieve it. Anything less will delay your progress, not to mention hamper your decision-making.
As Alison Bruyn, senior provider recruiter for Burlington, Massachusetts-based health system Wellforce, notes: “You need to figure out your wants, your needs and what you’re looking for in a position. Even if there are unknowns, that’s OK. But you need to establish where you want to be—and then be proactive during the entire process.”
Get specific about yourself: your ideal work life, setting, day. Whether that means a career focused totally on clinical tasks or one mixed with leadership and/or administrative duties, you obviously want to establish priorities early in your timeline.
That means leaving no stone unturned as you consider the pros and cons of every aspect of your dream job, from practice environment, size and location to daily tasks and future growth. Are you an urban, suburban, or small-town person? Do you prefer being part of a multi- or single specialty group? And what about employed models versus private practice partnerships or even independent contracting? Which is your cup of tea? More to the point, what might be the best match to your strengths, weaknesses and aspirations?
When Jaya Kasaraneni, M.D., MS, for instance, assumed her new role recently as associate medical director of Unity Health Care’s East of the River Clinic, she was confident that the Washington D.C.-based job was a natural fit for the Georgetown-affiliated Community Health Leadership Development Fellowship. It was not only an opportunity to parlay her family medicine credentials, but also to use what she was learning during the year-long program to help improve community health.
By staying within Unity Health Care, the site of her fellowship clinics, Kasaraneni had a relatively smooth transition from fellow-in-training to her new position. By mid-June she had navigated the interviewing gauntlet, which began after answering the job posting in January. By the time graduation rolled around in July, Kasaraneni had a job that began like clockwork in September.
Although she considered other options—including relocating to Indiana, where her parents practice medicine—she and her husband were committed to the DC area, partly because of his work. Her advice? Understand what you really want before you go into the interview process. “You can negotiate a lot,” Kasaraneni says, “but it still comes down to do you want to live in DC versus Indiana versus somewhere else.”
Asking others. Obviously, you don’t want to be applying for a position that you know you won’t take or in a city that you’re sure you won’t love. Touching base with people who’ve already successfully navigated this territory will not only keep you on course and on task, but also help you recognize those key factors or potential pitfalls that you haven’t considered.
“It never hurts to ask others who’ve been through the job search recently,” says Shawna Gelormino, D.O., physician recruiter director for Envision Physician Services. “You want to know, “‘Is there anything important that I’m missing, or do you think that my timeline is off?’”
As to other opinions, your mentors likely know you well and have your best interests at heart. So, use them as sounding boards not just for sorting through your options and pointing out potential landmines and missteps, but also for getting you across the finish line with clarity. Lecuyer, for instance, benefitted from a program director who was not only organized but kept him on task. “I had a great mentor who encouraged me and made sure I was hitting the right steps.”
Moving forward. Once you’ve outlined your parameters, you’re ready to organize and execute your search. Throughout the next months, you need to be proactive and responsive at every juncture. Plot enough time in your schedule to identify your targets, make your contacts and compile the questions that you’ll need to ask when weighing your options. Also outline what needs to be part of the deal to make you—and your family—happy campers, especially outside of work.
Phase 2: Make contact
Once you’ve identified those items that might make your professional and personal lives sing, you’re ready for the next phase on your timeline: making contact. By month three, you should be connecting on all fronts. Now is the time to create an online profile, start responding to job postings, making cold calls and generally touching base with recruiters.
“You want to get an idea of what their timeline and level of interest are,” says Mark Douyard MBA, CPRP, senior physician recruiter at Delaware-based Bayhealth Medical Center. He adds that it’s crucial to stay focused on your priority targets. “You want to cast a wide net, but not too wide of one.”
But there is a caveat. Although you’re touching base with places that have promise, don’t be shy about launching a fresh search for any new opportunity if the others fall through or don’t measure up. Life happens, and things do change. In fact, if you plan well, you should have time enough through month four and thereafter to refine and even re-evaluate your strategy. Although you want to keep your options open to new directions, this is also the time to narrow your choice.
Phase 3: Navigate interviews
Everything up until now is prep for the main event: your interviews. Allow time during months five and forward to schedule both screening sessions and onsite visits, particularly if the latter involve extensive travel, multiple sites and/or return visits.
You may glean significant new information during your screening phone, Skype or Zoom meeting with the recruiter or even a physician administrator. Besides having a wealth of information about appointments and process, a recruiter should be armed with info about the job and place. As Patricia Crabtree, CPRP, senior physician and advanced provider recruiter for Indiana University Health, notes: “They should know all of the ins and outs of positions that are open currently and positions that maybe open later when physicians are ready to ride into their search.”
Once you’ve navigated those discussions—and made a great first impression to boot—you’re ready for that all-important face-to-face encounter. The site visit is a rich opportunity to verify what you’ve already learned from your research and the screening interview. But it’s also a chance to mine for more new information not only about the job, but also the culture, values, structure and players in the organization.
Since this is likely the best chance you’ll have to evaluate if you’re a true fit for the place, target those light-shedding particulars. You may discover, for instance, that the people are great, the hospital is beautiful, but the shift or single coverage structures are not what you had in mind. “There are some things,” Gelormino says, “that you can quickly rule out. You can say, ‘I appreciate your time and it was a pleasure to meet you’ because you know that it’s not for you.”
Whatever you see and hear, hopefully you’ll have garnered sufficient answers to either scratch this place off your list—or come back for a return visit.
Phase 4: Review, accept, move forward
In the best of all worlds, you’ll be reviewing your offer (or offers) no later than six or seven months prior to a fall start date. That gives you more than adequate time not only to weigh the pros, cons and nuances of the position (or positions), but also to pay a second visit to the one that could be your professional home.
You may know instinctively that you want to land in one place over another. You’ve met the leaders, surveyed the facility, and you like the place’s vibe. But if you need additional information to make an educated choice, your timeline should allow time for a second up-close-and-personal look.
“We want you to be happy with the job and how our practice operates,” Gelormino says, noting that nothing is ever perfect. “But we want you to know that the basic nuts and bolts of the practice are a good fit for what you want to do and that the group is what you want to be part of.”
For instance, before Patient First candidates commit, they’re encouraged to shadow a physician for a few hours to get a sense of the day-to-day rhythm of the place. Given that this is a big career move, it’s sometimes difficult to make the decision without seeing and experiencing the place first-hand. But as Eleanor Hertzler, recruitment manager of physician relations for the system, notes: “I think it gives them a very good idea of what to expect.”
Whatever the case, with a well-crafted timeline, you’ll have plenty of space to narrow your options, accept an offer and accomplish what you need to accomplish to launch your practice and move. No matter where you land, remember that it takes months, rather than weeks, to verify your application and award your credentials.
You don’t want to push against deadlines to complete the paperwork vetting since you not only could miss your start date, but also a desirable job. Conversely, by completing your search early (ideally by December), you’ve cleared the last few months of training to focus on graduating and working out the professional and personal logistics of your new life. “You know the search is over,” Crabtree says, “so you can start prepping for you boards and just settling into and getting ready for your new career.”
Obviously, sticking to the timeline is critical if you want to find a job that works for you in a community that fits your family. Keep in mind that the more methodical your job search—starting with your timeline—the better you’ll come across to potential employers. “People are going to pay you a lot of money to practice medicine, so the cultural fit is very important,” Douyard says. “But you also want to be seen as being both organized and professional.”
Your job-search timeline should take center stage. But what other advice might support your performance?
Shine your light. Carve out adequate time to develop a CV and cover letter that sells your story. As Lecuyer notes: “The amount of time that it actually takes to craft a CV and good cover letter—plus run it by your mentors for feedback—is actually surprisingly longer than one might think.”
Finding home. If you’re concerned how you’ll fit with either the team or the community, make sure to ask potential colleagues what life is really like within the practice and beyond. If you didn’t scope out the area—or your spouse/partner wasn’t along for the initial interview—insist on another visit. “The job is an important part, but it’s not the only thing,” Gelormino says. “It’s not going to be enough to make your everyday life happy.”
Checking letters. Your board status can be a critical factor in landing a specific position. Some entities make hiring contingent on passage while others won’t even consider your application unless those initials are clearly on it. Keep in mind that, even if you’re hired post-exam, it will take weeks if not months to be credentialled.
Benefits under the microscope. As you narrow and consider your options, get into the nitty-gritty of the benefits package. You want ample time to delve into key items, especially how the group will address malpractice coverage. If you’re weighing several offers, don’t expect that all compensation and benefits packages are created equal. Seek clarity.
Visa extras. If you were born or trained in a different country, start looking for a position no later than 18 months prior to your start date. That will allow time to secure visa sponsorship and find opportunities that can support. Since state requirements govern when you’ll need to apply, be aware of the deadlines and meet them.
On-boarding varies. If you’re currently licensed and practicing in the area, the turnaround time for bringing you on board will likely be much shorter than if you’re a newbie with another year of training and/or coming from another state. Obviously, processes can be fluid, depending on the availability of busy people with busy calendars.
A joint effort. Just as you’re working off a timeline to find the right suitor, so are the recruiters you’re trying to impress. There’s a cyclical nature to their business, meaning that at any given point they have multiple searches in the works, processing multiple candidates at various points in their own job hunts. Says Bruyn: “We’ve seen this process many times before, so if physicians have questions or need clarity, they can always reach out to us for guidance on what comes next. We’re the experts.”
Don’t wait. Don’t be a straggler. Waiting until the last minute to launch your search not only raises red flags, but also guarantees stiff headwinds, especially if glitches occur. Says Abugo: “The best advice that I received was to start early. Even if you don’t know all of the details of your dream job, use what you know to begin your search.”
Planning next steps
Whatever your destination, you want to allow a generous window for vetting your background and securing what you need to practice. Below are a few specifics to consider as you incorporate these tasks into your timeline.
First up: Medical license
If you’ve already decided on a city and state, it’s smart to apply for your full medical license immediately. You may still be in the hunt for that perfect position, but it’s never too early to submit the paperwork. Since the application process can take any number of months, depending on the jurisdiction (and even COVID delays), you want to initiate it as soon as possible.
Conversely, if you haven’t settled on a place but are targeting several states, it’s OK to forego the license for now. Keep in mind, that time is of the essence, especially since your ability to practice medicine depends on this key paper. So, you want to obtain it ASAP.
Prescriptions on deck
With your license either in tow or in the works, you can focus quickly on those remaining steps necessary to treat, refer, admit and bill patients. On the prescription front, obviously you want to be on top of the paper chase. That includes being aware of the sequence that may come into play in securing both your federal DEA number and any state-controlled substance registration. Like the chicken and the egg, which comes first in paving the way for you to legally prescribe drugs?
“It’s kind of like a big snowball effect,” Bruyn says, noting that in her state candidates can’t get their federal DEA number until they have their Massachusetts controlled substance registration. They can’t get that until they’re fully licensed. “All of these pieces of the puzzle can’t happen simultaneously. So, knowing the whole process ahead of time definitely helps when somebody is putting together a timeline.”
Hertzler agrees, describing a similar chain of events in Maryland, where physician candidates are encouraged to get the medical license wheels in motion immediately, so they have a wide window to obtain a state CDS (controlled dangerous substance), before a federal DEA registration and then privileges. “Planning ahead,” says Hertzler, “is so, so important.”
Privileges, priorities and hiccups
Beyond acquiring your medical license and drug registrations, your timeline needs to allow for a few final credentialling steps. That includes securing hospital privileges and enrolling as an approved provider for those health care plans covering your patients.
Besides understanding the ins and outs of each process, keep in mind that it can take months for such approvals.
Whatever the case, remember that it’s people, not machines, vetting your background and giving you the next heads-up. As Lecuyer notes: “We don’t have artificial intelligence to verify your credentials. So, there’s a human element, which means this stuff just takes time—way more than people realize.”
“You want to seek other avenues if you haven’t found your desired practice environment,” Abugo says, noting that as soon as you’ve aimed your sights, however, you want to send out your CV. “If you see your dream job, then you can contact them immediately.”
In any case, whether you’re talking initially to an outside recruiter, or an in-house physician recruiter pro has your ear, make sure that you understand the process going forward, particularly as it applies to scheduling interviews and site visits. Will the initial interaction be via telephone or Zoom? Then what happens? Will you be meeting with a search committee, or will it be one session with only the partners?
Whatever the agenda, you want to understand just how you’ll be vetted, who you’ll spend time with, and what steps are involved in finalizing the deal.
Keep in mind that you’re not the only specialty that a recruiter is looking at or the only CV that he or she is reviewing. So, in addition to having plenty of time to make that initial connection, you want to build in plenty of time for them to return your calls. Don’t be shy about following up via email or phone.