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Physician Job Search Tips: What I Wish I’d Known About My First Job Search

Jackson Physician Search
March 30, 2022

When Dr. S began his first physician job search, he and his wife knew they wanted to find a position near their families in the Midwest. While searching online, he saw a Primary Care job posting in St. Louis and reached out to the listed contact, Tara Osseck, VP of Recruitment at Jackson Physician Search. 

Tara knew from her first conversation with Dr. S, that he was a great fit for her client, and from what he told her about his priorities, her client would be an ideal employer for him too. But of course, Dr. S had options, and after on-site interviews with multiple organizations, he ultimately went with the organization that made the highest offer. 

Six months later, he reached out to Tara again. He needed help finding a new position.

Dr. S is not the only one. Studies indicate half of all physicians leave their first job within three years. So, what went wrong for Dr. S? And what can residents and fellows beginning their own job searches learn from his mistakes — as well as the job search mistakes of countless other new physicians? 

Start Earlier Than You Think 

Tara Osseck, Regional VP of Recruitment at Jackson Physician Search, cannot stress enough the importance of allowing adequate time for a physician job search. Doctors are in demand, it’s true, but this doesn’t mean the job you want will just be waiting for you at the exact moment you want it. 

“Allow yourself time to pre-assess the market and create a timeline for your search,” Tara says. “I’m always happy to talk to residents and fellows and help them understand what lies ahead. There is a lot to navigate.”

How much time is adequate? The answer varies depending on the specialty and subspecialty, but typically, residents and fellows should begin at least one year prior to finishing training. For those really high-demand specialties, two years is not unreasonable. Some organizations will sign new hires more than a year in advance of their start date.

“I’ve spoken to some very strong candidates who will be finishing in the next few months, but they didn’t make job searching a priority, so they’ve missed out,” says Tara. “Most organizations with a medical staffing plan have already hired from the 2022 class of residents. They are looking ahead to who they need to sign for 2023.” 

There are other reasons to start early as well. Visa candidates must meet rigorous, federally imposed deadlines that, if not attended to, can derail a job search and leave those candidates scrambling.

“We work with a lot of candidates who require J-1 visa waiver support,” says Tara. “I hate to see them settling for a job just so they can get their paperwork filed on time.”  

Define and Prioritize Your Needs

What is most important to you in your first physician job? Compensation, location, scope of practice, work-life balance? Probably, all of the above! Of course, it’s rare to find everything you want in one perfect job. Tara counsels all physicians to prioritize and know what you are willing to compromise on — and what you are not.  

Consider the importance of each of these five areas:

1. Compensation

After years of earning a resident’s salary, physicians may be tempted to simply follow the money, but Tara urges them to look at the whole package. 

“So often they see a big, guaranteed salary or loan forgiveness, and they’re asking, ‘Where do I sign?’” Tara says. “I help them evaluate the whole package by asking ‘What happens after the salary guarantee runs out?’ ‘Are the productivity targets realistic?’ ‘How long do I have to stay if I accept loan forgiveness?’ ‘What if my productivity isn’t matching my guarantee — do I have to pay it back?’”

If the compensation package seems too good to be true, it probably is. Physicians should have some knowledge about the types of physician compensation models and understand the expectations tied to any offer they are considering. Some physicians will quickly discover the trade-off isn’t worth it.

Such was the case for the aforementioned Dr. S. After interviewing with several health systems in a major Midwest Metro, he accepted the highest offer. The money was nice, but he felt like a cog in the wheel of a giant healthcare machine. He learned the hard way that money doesn’t guarantee professional happiness.

2. Location, Location, Location

So, you’ve always dreamed of living in Chicago, or maybe you want to move back to the city where you grew up. It’s normal to have a preferred location, but Tara cautions to keep an open mind.   

“For most physicians, location is the biggest driver of their job search,” she says. “They are so focused on a specific city, but they’ll often find the market is saturated, so their earning potential is not what they hoped.”

Organizations in major metros typically receive more interest in their physician job openings than those in less desirable cities or rural areas. As a result, their offers don’t have to be as competitive as you’ll find elsewhere. Additionally, it may be harder to grow a patient base in a city with 100 other physicians in your same specialty, so the earning potential is not as high. For some physicians, this trade-off is worth it to live in their preferred city. The rest, however, should place a lower priority on location to keep their options open.

3. Scope of Practice

What do you actually want to do day-to-day? A physician’s scope of practice can vary greatly, depending on a number of factors, so it’s important to find an opportunity that aligns with the procedures and services you hope to perform. That said, this too, is an area to keep an open mind. While the recent trend has physicians narrowing their field of specialization, most organizations are seeking physicians who can do it all. 

“The biggest need right now is for physicians who can be flexible and provide a wide scope of practice,” says JPS Director of Recruiting, Katie Moeller. “Sometimes a subspecialization can actually make a candidate less attractive.”

This obviously doesn’t mean your training is worthless, but it does mean you may need to broaden what you are willing to do in order to have more employment options. 

4. Culture

What is most important to you in an organization’s culture? In the recent Rural Physician Recruitment and Staffing Survey from Jackson Physician Search and, physicians ranked “physician autonomy” as the most important attribute in an employer, followed by “teamwork” and “patient-focused.” Evaluating these qualities during the physician interview process can be difficult, but good physician recruiters will likely have insight to share about the major employers in their regions.

Once again, the experience of Dr. S provides a learning opportunity. After interviewing with Tara’s client, Dr. S said he felt a good connection with everyone he met and could genuinely see himself working there. Tara was not surprised; based on what he had told her about his values, she was certain her client would be a good fit. She knew from placing other physicians with them, that they treated their physicians with respect and valued their input. However, Dr. S accepted a higher offer from an organization that did not have the same reputation, and of course, we know it did not turn out well.    

5. Work-Life Balance

How much do you want to work? Some physicians are motivated by a productivity-based compensation model and are eager to work as much as possible to maximize their financial success. Others may feel they’ve paid their dues in residency and are ready for a more normal schedule. There are physician jobs for both, but it’s important to know which type aligns with your goals.

“I recently worked with an ENT who responded to my job posting largely because it required minimal call,” Tara says. “He had young kids and felt his schedule as a resident had caused him to miss out on so much. He wanted a job that would allow him to be home at a reasonable time and fully focus on his family. That was his top priority.”

A healthy work-life balance looks different for every physician, but it’s important to know what type of hours will be expected of you in any job you are considering and make sure it aligns with what is best for you and your family. 

Take Advantage of the Resources Available to You

The physician recruiters at Jackson Physician Search have valuable expertise to share about the physician job search process and are more than willing to educate and guide you through it. Not only can they help you with the logistics of what to do and when, but JPS recruiters know their markets inside and out and can offer valuable insight about individual organizations.   

Of course, candidates don’t always follow the advice of recruiters, and many times, they suffer for it. Dr. S surely did, but fortunately, Tara was eventually able to help him secure another interview with her client.   

“I told him he had to trust me this time,” Tara says. “And I needed to know he was serious. He assured me that he would do everything he could to make it work.”

Dr. S was true to his word. He followed Tara’s advice to the letter and soon had another offer from the employer he had originally turned down. This time he happily accepted and continues to thrive with his new organization.  

Of course, not every physician job search mistake can be corrected so easily. So, start your physician job search right with the help of Jackson Physician Search. Contact a Jackson Physician Search recruiter today or download the Physician Job Search Playbook.

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