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How to Avoid the Top Mistakes Physicians Make During Their Job Search

Jackson Physician Search
February 9, 2022

Whether you are finishing up residency and searching for your first physician job or you are already working and evaluating new physician job opportunities, your physician job search is bound to present some challenges. While it’s true that physicians are in high demand, employers are still extremely selective. The high costs of sourcing, recruiting, and hiring a physician drive organizations to find physician candidates who are a good fit, both skill-wise and culturally, and are therefore likely to stay in the job long-term.

Fortunately, after applying to medical schools, residency programs, and possibly fellowships, you know how to present yourself and prepare for interviews. Therefore, the traditional job search mistakes likely don’t apply to you. You know better than to have typos in your physician CV; you use complete sentences and proper punctuation when communicating with recruiters and potential employers; you don’t post your personal antics on public social media; you won’t answer “perfectionism” when asked about your biggest weakness. You know all of this, so you may think you can skip over any warnings about common job search mistakes.

However, physicians aren’t infallible. In fact, there are several common mistakes physicians make in the job search that can keep them from getting the job they want, or more likely, cause them to take jobs that aren’t a good fit. Keep reading to find out how to avoid these common physician job search mistakes.

Failing to Plan

Dr. B had thought about this moment a million times over the past two years. Handing his resignation letter to his boss was just as satisfying as he had imagined. He was tired of working 80+ hours a week, the unending administrative tasks, and most of all, the feeling that he had no control over how decisions in the group were made. The pandemic had only made the circumstances worse, and seeing so many people suffer had given him a wake-up call about what he wanted for his life–and this wasn’t it. He wasn’t sure what would come next, but he knew his next physician job would be different. 

Dr. B is not alone. Across the country, overworked and underappreciated physicians are handing in their notices. In a July 2021 whitepaper published by MGMA and Jackson Physician Search, reports nearly half of physicians surveyed said, over the past year, they had considered leaving their employer (48%) or taking early retirement (43%). For those physicians who aren’t in a position to retire, the next step is a physician job search.

The mistake Dr. B has made is entering the job search without a plan. While he may assume he will have plenty of physician job opportunities, he may find the ones available right now are no better than what he has left behind. Under pressure to resume a paycheck, Dr. B may rush into a new physician job that will leave him similarly frustrated.

Burned-out physicians aren’t the only ones who are likely to begin a job search without a plan. Often physicians coming out of residency assume they can contact a recruiter and have offers to evaluate in a matter of a few months. The reality, however, is that residents should allow a minimum of a year for their search. This is because most organizations know it takes time to hire a physician who is not only qualified but who is a good, long-term fit. They project when they might be ready to bring on a newly trained physician, and start the physician search about a year prior. In some cases, the offer will be made, and the contract signed a full year before the start date.

Physician Job Search Tip: Brush up on what a successful physician job search entails with Jackson Physician Search’s Physician Job Search Playbook. Give your job search the same preparation you have given to the other important milestones in your career. After all, its outcome will impact your quality of life for the foreseeable future.

Limiting Your Opportunities

Beginning her third year of pediatric residency, Dr. A was eager to begin her physician job search. She and her husband knew exactly where they wanted to live, and she already had her eye on a prestigious hospital in the city. Of course, she would consider other opportunities in the area, but with all the headlines about the worsening physician shortage, she assumed she would have the advantage.

While Dr. A is allowing adequate time for her job search, she is still setting herself up for disappointment. It’s true that physicians are in high demand, however, this is not necessarily the case for pediatricians in the city she’s chosen. By narrowing her search to one location, she will have limited options and may be competing with hundreds of other new pediatricians who have chosen that particular city.

Dr. A’s mistake is not uncommon. Many physicians focus their job search on one city or one type of institution. Given limited options in the city they’ve chosen, they accept a job that ticks the location box, hardly noticing that it misses the mark on everything else. This partially explains why approximately half of physicians coming out of residency spend less than five years in their first job, and half of those walk away in just two years.

Of course, for physicians already practicing in a given city, they may have cause to stay in the area so as to not disrupt the lives of their families. In this case, it is still important to keep an open mind about the size and type of setting you are willing to work in. If applicable, you might also consider extending your commute to accept a rural physician job where the need is likely greater.

Physician Job Search Tip: While it’s normal to have an idea of where you want to live, try to keep an open mind and investigate opportunities outside of your target location. Work with a trusted physician recruiter who will take the time to get to know you and understand what it is you want most in a job. If this recruiter presents you with an opportunity they think will be a good fit, trust their instincts and give it the consideration it deserves.

Ignoring Red Flags

Dr. T left the interview feeling a bit uneasy. Though his interviewer seemed impressed with him as a candidate, she had been openly critical of other physicians in the practice. Come to think of it, she had been fairly negative about the patient population too. Dr. T brushed off the feeling, telling himself this was just how things were. After all, most of his attendings and mentors, when being honest, had some negative things to say about practicing medicine. There would be headaches at any physician job, but he’d be compensated well for his trouble. Just show him where to sign.

Dr. T’s mistake is ignoring red flags during the physician interview process. There are a number of red flags to watch out for–high turnover, insufficient technology, productivity imbalances, and as Dr. T encountered, negativity. Basically, anything that feels “off” should be explored further with smart questions to ask your interviewer.

Another common mistake made by Dr. T is prioritizing income above all else. Yes, competitive physician compensation packages can have candidates–especially residents–dreaming of expensive cars and luxury vacations. However, it is critical to focus on finding a job that satisfies your needs regarding work autonomy, professional respect, and manageable stress levels.

Physician Job Search Tip:  Listen to your instincts. After your physician interview, talk through how it went with your physician recruiter and don’t hold back about any hesitations you felt. Your physician recruiter may know more about the situation or can advise on how best to find out more. Red flags aren’t necessarily a sign that the job is not a good fit, but they do warrant further investigation.

Holding Out for “Perfect”

Dr. N had been planning for this moment since the first day of medical school. She had researched the many professional options available to her as a psychologist, and she knew exactly what she wanted in terms of practice setting, location, compensation package, work culture, and more. With more than a year left in her residency program, she reached out to a physician recruiter with a detailed list of her job needs. She knew it was just a matter of time before she got the call for her dream opportunity. 

Dr. N may be waiting for that call indefinitely. While physicians shouldn’t rush to accept the first offer that comes their way, they must also have realistic expectations about their ideal job opportunity. Whether it’s location or salary or practice setting, it is highly unlikely that you’ll find everything on your wish list in one dream physician job. This is why it’s so important to know what you genuinely need for professional satisfaction and prioritize this over everything else.

Physician Job Search Tip: Make a list of everything you want in a job and then prioritize. If you still are not clear on what is most important, talk to a mentor, ask questions of practicing physicians in your field, or connect with a trusted physician recruiter to help you discern what will have the greatest impact on your physician job satisfaction.  A trusted physician recruiter can help you evaluate job offers and identify what will be the best fit long-term.

One way to avoid these mistakes is by establishing a relationship with a physician recruiter early in your search. Finding a trusted recruitment partner can be the single most effective means for landing your ideal physician opportunity.  A good recruiter has a nationwide reach and a network of healthcare industry contacts that keeps them connected to the best vacancies. Talk to them about what you are looking for and what type of situation suits your personal life and professional goals. Create trust and be honest with them, and they will help you find a job that you may not ever find on your own.

If you are a physician preparing for a job search, talk to the healthcare industry professionals at Jackson Physician Search. Our recruiters have the experience and nationwide network to help you find the opportunity that best fits your personal and professional needs. Contact us today to learn more.

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