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Beyond Physician Compensation: 3 Things Early-Career Physicians Need for Long-Term Job Satisfaction

Helen Falkner
November 29, 2023

“Show me the money!” Physicians may not say it quite as explicitly as the famous line in Jerry Maguire, but as they search for their first jobs, the sentiment is often the same. After years of medical school, residency, and possibly fellowship, physicians enter the workforce understandably eager to reap the financial benefits of their hard work.

As Vice President of Recruitment for Jackson Physician Search’s Western division, my team and I regularly speak to residents and fellows about their first job priorities. Location is always a consideration, and they may mention a desire for flexibility or a positive work culture. However, physician compensation and recruitment incentives are almost always at the top of the list for job search priorities.

This aligns with new research from MGMA and Jackson Physician Search, in which 76% of physicians said compensation was the primary factor driving their first job decisions, followed by location, work-life balance, and a positive culture. Of course, your base salary and signing bonuses matter. Still, my team and I always advise new physicians to look beyond compensation if they hope to find a good long-term fit — something fewer and fewer newly trained physicians are successfully doing. 

The same study found physicians who completed training in the last six years reported staying in their first jobs for an average of just two years. When the question was asked of all physicians (regardless of how long ago they completed training), the average first job tenure was six years. The trend of shrinking tenure suggests physicians often accept the biggest offer but quickly discover that it takes more than money to be happy at work.  

A closer look at the new survey provides clues to what those other factors may be, and they may surprise you. Keep reading for 3 things early-career physicians need for long-term physician job satisfaction.

1. A Well-Suited Practice Ownership Model

When physicians in the aforementioned survey were asked what made them leave their first jobs, the most commonly cited reason was the “practice ownership/governance model.” That is, physicians realized the structure of their new organization was not a good fit for their needs. The report concludes that new physicians may accept offers without fully understanding how their new organizations will be managed — and how that may impact their job satisfaction. Having spent most of their training in academic hospital environments, new physicians may not grasp the nuances of working at private practices versus large health systems and which would be best for them.  

Takeaway: Prior to undergoing a job search, residents and fellows should talk to physicians working in various settings and ask questions about what it is like to work in those environments. This should help you get an idea of what type of practice model will be the best fit. Once you reach the interview stage, ask specific questions about how the organization is managed, at what level physicians participate in decision-making, and how physicians are compensated not just in the first or second year but in the long term.

2. Growth and Development Opportunities 

Residency may be over, but professional growth and development for most physicians will be a lifelong pursuit. This may be why nearly a third of physicians in the MGMA and Jackson Physician Search survey cited a lack of “career track/advancement opportunities” as the reason they left their first jobs. Physician training is comprised of a clear, step-by-step plan for career progression, and early-career physicians will thrive when presented with a similar path to partnership or promotion. Physicians who are not given ample development or advancement opportunities are less likely to stay in their new jobs.

Takeaway: No matter what type of organization you are considering, it’s imperative to ask questions about the typical career path of physicians at the organization. Ask about the timeline as well. How long does it take to reach each milestone? What support is provided along the way? Will you be assigned a mentor? How often can you expect to receive feedback from a supervisor? Ask your interviewer these questions, but you should also speak to physicians in the organization and talk to them about their experiences.

3. Work-Life Balance

While we tend to associate the younger generations with the work-life balance trend, new physicians prioritize compensation and location when it comes to their first jobs. However, the MGMA and Jackson Physician Search study saw an increase in the importance of work-life balance for physicians searching for their second jobs. This suggests new physicians quickly realize the impact of balance on their job satisfaction and are more intentional in their pursuits of it the second time around.

Takeaway: Let potential employers know that while you are willing to work hard, work-life balance is a priority. Ask about workload equity, administrative support, call burden, and general flexibility. Be aware that different types of organizations may require more/less of physicians at different stages of their careers. Are you willing to pay your dues now in exchange for more freedom later, or is a flexible schedule a must from day one? Knowing your answer is imperative to finding satisfaction in your first physician job.

As a physician’s career evolves, priorities shift. Compensation remains important, but the significance of culture, work-life balance, flexibility, growth, and autonomy are increasingly apparent. Residents and fellows start laser-focused on compensation packages, but it doesn’t take long to recognize how other factors influence job satisfaction. Physicians must understand how practice ownership models operate and identify which type best meets their needs. They should also focus on career advancement opportunities and work-life balance to find long-term job satisfaction.

Wherever you are in your physician career, the recruitment team at Jackson Physician Search can help you identify your priorities and find an opportunity that meets your needs. Reach out today to learn more or search physician jobs online now.

About Helen Falkner

As the daughter of a physician and an Iowa native, Helen has witnessed firsthand the impact a great physician can have on a community. She joined Jackson Physician Search at the company’s headquarters in Alpharetta, GA, as an entry-level Research Consultant in 2012. Through her consistent success as an individual contributor and manager, Falkner progressed quickly to Partner in 2018 and assumed her role as Regional Vice President of Recruiting for Jackson Physician Search’s Western Division in October 2020. In January 2021, she relocated to the firm’s Denver office, where she leads a team of successful physician recruiters while actively continuing to recruit for her clients.

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