Seven Job-Search Mistakes of New Physicians

Leigh Page


April 07, 2015

In This Article

Time and Location Issues Are Important

2. Not Allowing Plenty of Time

To increase your odds of finding a good job, search firms recommend starting 12-18 months before your training will end. That means that residents and fellows who will finish in June 2016 should start looking for a job right now—in the spring of 2015.

What often happens, however, is that many trainees graduating this year are just starting to look. According to the Merritt Hawkins survey of final-year residents, 68% didn't begin a serious job search until less than a year before the end of training, and almost half of those didn't start until 6 months before the end of training.

Increasingly, new physicians are waiting longer to begin their search. In 2014, Merritt Hawkins found that only 23% of residents had begun their search a year before completing their training vs 82% in 2008.

It's not certain why residents are waiting longer, but the consequences are clear. "If you wait too long, confusion and panic can set in, and you can accept a job out of necessity rather than choice," Stajduhar says. Waiting also limits your choice of location. Moving to another state requires getting a medical license there, and that can take 9 months or more in some states, he says.

Starting early allows busy residents time to consider their options. You might start by going on the Internet and consulting the job listings provided by specialty societies, journals, recruiting firms, and healthcare organizations. In addition, consider subscribing to search apps sponsored by recruiters, journals, and others, which allow you to receive notices of opportunities as soon as they become available. You'll also have time to go to continuing medical education (CME) meetings, where you can meet people who can help you with your search, Stajduhar says.

3. Gravitating Toward Big Metropolitan Areas

New physicians looking for jobs ought to have the pick of the litter. Across the country and in most specialties—primary care in particular—there are vastly more jobs available than there are doctors to fill them.

But in many cases, new physicians find only sparse pickings. That's because they tend to crowd into major metropolitan areas—especially in the Northeast, where there's a glut of job seekers. The employers then have the negotiating advantage.

The Association of American Medical Colleges reports[3] that the nine states with the highest concentration of physicians are all in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Not surprisingly, these regions had the lowest compensation rates in the country, according to a 2014 Medscape survey.[4] The big cities are where salaries really sag, even though the cost of living is much higher. Salaries in the New York City, Boston, and Washington, DC, metropolitan areas can be $50,000 to $100,000 lower than in other areas, according to Jim Barna, an attorney in Fayetteville, New York, who helps new physicians with their employment contracts.

Despite the numbers, however, the Merritt Hawkins survey of final-year residents found that 24% wanted to practice in communities of more than 1 million in 2014, compared with 6% in 2008. For these doctors, at least, the major metro areas are the most desirable.

Barna says that the trend makes some sense for new physicians. "Large cities are the places where most of them complete their training," he says. "It's often where they met their spouses and started families." Also, living in a more densely populated area makes it easier for a two-career couple to both find jobs. However, the trend creates "a glut of physicians competing for a limited number of positions," he says.

Those who insist on looking for jobs in large metropolitan areas can still improve their chances, according to Tim Leigh, a psychiatry recruiter in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Leigh says that he places a lot of new psychiatrists in Virginia, but most of them want to practice in the Washington, DC, area, where there's "an extremely tight job market, and they're not going to make as much money." To improve their chances, he advises them to locate in the outer reaches of the area—such as in Fredericksburg, Virginia, about 50 miles from the capital. "The farther you move yourself away from a major city, the better off you are," he says.

Meanwhile, great job offers can be found in small cities nowhere near large metropolitan areas, especially when competing health systems are driving up salaries. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top-paying metro areas for physicians in 2013,[5] the most recent year for which data are available, included Rochester, New Hampshire; San Angelo, Victoria, and Wichita Falls, in Texas; Wenatchee, Washington; Wausau, Wisconsin; Sumter, South Carolina; and Pocatello, Idaho.

Not all small cities offer good jobs, though. Stajduhar advises job seekers to stay away from places like Lake Tahoe, central Colorado, and the Florida coasts because they're very popular with outdoorsy doctors, and employers can drive down compensation. "You're going to make less money, the cost of living is going to be higher, and in many cases there's a lot of managed care," he says.


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