When it came to the practice of medicine, Jennifer Lee* was tops in her class at Howard University and was one of the most prized staff members at the University of Virginia Medical Center.

But by the end of her residency, Dr. Lee found herself at a loss when it came to determining what to do next.

Although pursued by several key research hospitals, Lee thought she’d be happier working directly with patients rather than spending her days in a lab.  But she had no idea where to begin to find appropriate positions.

At a time when the whole world told her she had truly arrived, Lee wondered where in the world she was going.

Unfortunately, Jennifer Lee’s story is a common one among young physicians.

While well-versed in the science of medicine, many young doctors are sorely under-skilled in the business of managing their careers.

Fortunately, medical career management skills can be learned.  Simple strategies like networking can be key.  Starting early building that career network can make it easier to realize the career of your dreams.

According to CareerPhysician, a training and consulting company considered the industry leader in physician career management, the problem stems not only from a lack of strategic career management, but also from medical practices that don’t have an understanding of their own recruitment needs.

“In many ways it’s the blind searching for the blind,” says Wesley Millican, Chief Executive Officer of Career Physician and an expert in medical professional recruitment.

According to Millican, the decision to hire new physicians typically comes with an immediate need, often due to the departure of an existing partner or operational issues that trigger the need for additional staff.

“Because the need for a new physician often arises quickly, one of the most common ways to find new resources is through networking,” Millican says.

CareerPhysician, which offers training in networking skills as part of its Launch Your Career Series, stresses the importance of young physicians learning how to network within their professional community.
John Sands*, a third year resident at Baylor University Medical Center, says he’s learned the value of networking while pursuing a specialization in cosmetic surgery.

“Getting to know the professionals who are tops in your field in the community where you want to practice is absolutely key,” Sands says.

“When a practice in Dallas is looking for a new surgeon, they contact the university and their colleagues first to find out if they know of anyone qualified for the position they have available,” Sands says.

CP’s Millican concurs: “Successful practitioners will call people they trust: the people who trained in the same hospital or colleagues at other training hospitals.  Young physicians who have made themselves known to these networks, and those whom have communicated their specific career goals, will have a better chance of connecting with available positions,” he says.

When asked about their plans post-training, a class of 35 doctors at the UCLA Medical Center* said they will rely heavily on search firms and medical journals to find out about available positions.

Recruitment experts say the best jobs never make the journals.

“Networking connects the best positions with the people who are connected in that network so that positions are filled without the need for broad-based recruiting,” Millican says.

“Get an Early Start!”
To avoid finding yourself in the same position as Dr. Lee, experts say the key is to begin the networking process long before you actually need the position.

“The best strategy for young physicians is to begin networking with professionals in the field where you want to practice at least 18 to 24 months before you need to find a position,” says Baylor’s Sands.

“During your training it’s important to pay attention to those units that appeal most to you.  As you discover what type of medicine you want to practice, you can begin researching the practices and the markets where those practices are strong.  This sounds really basic, but sometimes to a physician who is focused on day-to-day survival and an intense workload, it can be overwhelming,” Millican says.

Experts also say that the sooner you narrow your focus the easier it will be to create a logical career path.
Spend time mapping out your goals.  Ask yourself the hard questions: “Where do I want to be in five years professionally?” and the equally important “Where do I want to be five years from now socially?”

Knowing your personal goal will make it possible to create a career path true to your self.

Dr. Theta Knowsall* of the University of Miami Health Sciences Center says, “Being happy is important, and social research shows that the biggest sources of burn-out for physicians relate to the external pressures of bad situations, which compound the pressures of the job.”

By carefully planning your job search, you are more likely to find work that fits your interests and passion, in a part of the country and in a discipline that helps to balance those unavoidable pressures, Knowsall says.

“Understanding what kind of jobs are available in communities where yu want to live also helps to identify obstacles that might arise as you get closer to moving on from training,” she adds.

“There is stiff competition for positions in some markets, and there are also numerous personal and social issues that play into decisions you make abut where you want to work.  Today physicians must consider both their own social or family constraints, as well as practice issues that will shape the type of career they may have,” Millican says.

Taking charge of your medical career management early on by networking within your professional community will go a long way toward ensuring career happiness, say the experts.

By being proactive, your CV will be more than just another paper in the stack, and the practices you contact as part of your job search will be more likely to fit your personal goals and objectives.

About the Author:

Wesley D. Millican, MBA, CEO and Physician Talent Officer of CareerPhysician Advisors, LP, and CareerPhysician, LLC, provides comprehensive talent solutions for academic children’s hospitals, colleges of medicine and academic medical centers across the nation. He possesses a longstanding passion for career development of all young physicians and serves as a go to career resource for training program directors and their residents and fellows. In continuing his commitment to the “future of medicine”, Mr. Millican speaks nationally at residency and fellowship programs. His Launch Your Career® Series is a proven resource for today’s residents and fellows and has served as a go to resource for program directors over the last 15 years.