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Six Steps for Finding the Perfect Physician Job

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I get asked a lot to talk about my process of finding my job. Usually this is because I tell people that I have found my perfect physician job (which for reference is at Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, NY!). It sounds like a bold thing to say for someone who is only recently on the job after graduating training. And that is a lot of the criticism I get when I talk about this. But, what can I say? I really believe it’s true.

And even more so, I feel a passion for helping others find their perfect job as well. This is true for trainees that are just graduating and looking for their first physician job. It’s also true for those unhappy in their current situation and looking for a new job.

I feel this passion because I think that, as a field, physicians go about finding a job in a completely backward fashion: they look for a job to fit into, rather than a job that fits them. I myself did this — until I couldn’t anymore. It felt too awful. Eventually, I decided to look for the physician job that best fit me, rather than the job that I fit into the best. And I succeeded in finding the perfect fit! Below, I share the steps I took to get to where I am.

Step One: Describe your ideal job to yourself.

You can’t look for your perfect job without knowing ahead of time what your perfect job is. 

So, imagine your perfect job. Write down all of its attributes. Don’t worry about how feasible it is; just create your perfect job in your head and translate it to paper. For me, the most important factors for my perfect job were:

  • Close to family.
  • Fair compensation structure.
  • Ability to perform complex microsurgery in a team environment.
  • Minimal call responsibilities.
  • Ability to conduct research without pressure.

Once you have an ideal in mind, you’ll be better equipped to find it. You’ll ask more pertinent questions in interviews, you’ll narrow down your location search, and you’ll have a better sense of what kind of compensation you deserve.

Step Two: Look for jobs in the proper places.

This seems so obvious. But I realized when I started my search that I had no idea where to look for jobs. Many people are in the same situation.

So, I recommend “looking” in three places: your professional society’s job board(s); online job postings like Indeed (I was surprised how many real doctor jobs are advertised here and nowhere else); and cold calls/emails to prospective employers. 

Of these three, cold contact is by far the most productive. There are so many unadvertised jobs out there that go unfilled or filled by those less qualified than you. If you reach out to employers directly, that shows initiative. An example of such an email would begin: 

I am writing to express my great interest in applying for a position in [insert department and institution] as advertised. I have also included my current CV for your review. I am currently an [insert current position] in the [insert current department and institution] and completed my residency at [insert department and institution]. I will be graduating in June 202X. I believe that I would be a great fit for this position at [insert institution] for the following reasons…

Once you have a format, the rest should flow naturally.

Step Three: Decide which job is right for you.

This step occurs after you have interviewed at a number of opportunities identified in Step Two. Now you need a system to help organize your thoughts about them in order to pick the best fit.

I recommend creating an Excel “grading sheet.” The columns of the sheet should be the attributes of your ideal job and the rows should be the job opportunities. To order your thoughts, grade each job opportunity based on each attribute and tally up the score. Sometimes seeing the cold numbers makes things that seem abstract feel more concrete and actionable.

Step Four: Know your value.

Whether you are a trainee about to become an attending for the first time or a mid-career attending looking to optimize your compensation, you need to know your value as a physician. This is far and away the best advice that I received prior to interviewing and ultimately accepting a job. 

To begin,

  • Ask your mentors/colleagues how much they make and how their contract is structured.
  • Ask recent graduates/colleagues in your field who have re-negotiated their contract how much they make and how the negotiation went.
  • Find out how many RVUs the average physician in your field does annually. Then find the average pay/RVU value in your field (it’s $65/RVU for plastic surgeons). Multiply these two numbers and you have a good sense of what your annual salary should be.
  • Make a list of the unique skills that you have that make you more valuable than an average physician in your field. For me, it was my training, research abilities, and even my ability to do robotic surgeries.

Step Five: Negotiate.

Once you have narrowed your search to one or two job opportunities and know your value, you need to negotiate the best contract.

The most important steps for doing so are:

  • Knowing your value by assessing standardized compensation data or asking mentors.
  • Understanding the compensation model that fits you best, whether it be via RVUs, collections, or a straight salary.
  • Creating the ability to move on by keeping contract lengths reasonable (I think three years is best) and minimizing any non-compete clause.
  • Understanding your benefits and asking for clarity on anything vague.
  • Recognizing that your contract just needs to fit you the best; it is not a competition with anyone else.
  • Understanding that if it is not written in the contract, then it doesn’t count.
  • Getting over any perceived shyness or awkwardness and just asking for what you want — everything is negotiable!

Step Six: Consider others.

If you have a partner, the job application and decision-making process needs to happen in a joint fashion. If you end up at your perfect job but your partner is miserable, the job won’t feel so perfect.

To ensure this doesn’t happen, I recommend going through all of these steps together with your partner, as applicable. Have them help you create your ideal job — sometimes they know you even better than you do! If they are going to be working as well, then work to create and seek your partner’s ideal job using the same strategies. If one of you doesn’t like your new job or environment, it just won’t succeed in the long term. So work together and work equally!

Once you start looking for the perfect job instead of just a job, you’ll be able to thrive and grow. And if at any point the process starts to become too much, remember: You have worked so hard in becoming a doctor. You have training and expertise that took years to secure. You have thought long and hard about what you want. You deserve to be happy in your career.

Do you have any tried and true job search strategies? Share in the comments below!

Jordan Frey, MD is a plastic surgeon in Buffalo, NY at Erie County Medical Center and the University of Buffalo. His clinical focus is on breast reconstruction and complex microsurgery. He is also the founder of The Prudent Plastic Surgeon, one of the fastest growing finance blogs. There, he shares his journey to financial well-being with a goal of helping all physicians reach financial freedom, practicing on their own terms.

Illustration by Jennifer Bogartz

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