It is ironic that medical residents and fellows, while being experienced in the practice of medicine, are often inexperienced in navigating their initial career options. A recent study shows that many may not focus on the nitty-gritty details of a job search until the last few months of their residency — and unfortunately the results seem to speak for themselves.
Jackson & Coker, an Atlanta-based healthcare recruiting firm representing clients throughout the U.S., found that over half of 500 physicians in the study left their first job after five years, and more than half of those stayed only one or two years. The percentages were somewhat higher for female physicians over males in each category.
“As a recruiter who has helped hundreds of young doctors find the jobs they really want, I find that many medical residents and fellows focus on the wrong things in their first job search,” said Tony Stajduhar, president of the Permanent Recruitment Division of Jackson Coker. “As a basis for making a decision about a first job opportunity, for example, location is shaky ground. But it’s the top priority for many, and the results often speak for themselves.”
Quality of practice should be top priority
According to Stajduhar, the study showed that physicians who spent fewer than five years at their first practice were more likely to cite location as the top priority driving their choice. “In contracts, those who stayed more than 10 years at their first practice said the most important driver for their decision was not location, but the quality of the practice. There is an important lesson here for any resident on a job search.”
His recommendation? “Being open to consider a variety of locations is a great quality for residents when starting that all-important first job search,” Stajduhar said. “Many residents get hung up on wanting to go someplace cool like Denver or Miami, only to find the cost of living is high, managed care contracts can be onerous, and pay lower than other areas. With nearly 30 years as a recruiter under my belt, I’ve traveled extensively and have seen many attractive places to live that might not have the cache of a Denver or Miami, but do offer many benefits.”
Stajduhar also recommends starting the search early — at least a year ahead of scheduled residency program completion. “Many organizations looking to hire physicians begin their search 12-18 months out. Of course, it varies by specialty and sub-specialty — some hospitals and practices start several years ahead — but 12-18 months is an industry average.”
Stajduhar offers other basic tips:
- Step out of your comfort zone. Don’t make decisions based on emotional comfort — for example, returning to the town where you grew up or staying in the place where you completed your residency.
- Consider your personality/practice type. Hospital employee, independent contractor, part of a multispecialty group — which do you think will be the best fit for you not just today, but two years from now?
- Evaluate what’s right for your family. “We focus 60-70% of our work on a candidate’s family needs for a reason,” said Stajduhar. “A family’s needs are critically important to the decision and, if possible, your spouse or significant other should join you on out-of-town interviews to check out the area’s schools, services, etc.”
- Be realistic about money. “It might be wise to accept a lower starting salary as a trade-off for a job that holds considerable opportunities for expansion into new specialties or areas of practice,” he said.
In addition, Jackson & Coker found that using a recruiter for the first job is on the rise among medical residents, and that those who do use one are likely to receive incentive bonuses much higher than those offered to physicians who find their first job by networking or word of mouth.
Ask the right questions
“Above all, it’s important to remember that Utopia doesn’t exist,” said Stajduhar. “It’s best to have that fact in mind when you begin the job search. Our study found that there is a lot of disappointment out there over first job choices, but it doesn’t have to be that way if medical residents keep an open mind to all opportunities, ask the right questions and answer them realistically — whether or not they choose to work with a recruiting firm.”
To view the complete commentary on this survey in Jackson & Coker’s newsletter, please follow this link: http://www.jacksoncoker.com/physician-career-resources/newsletters/monthlymain/Jun/2012.aspx;
or for complete survey results, see the following: http://www.jacksoncoker.com/physician-career-resources/newsletters/articles-surveys/images/FirstPractice.pdf