Doubling down: Your spouse’s role in your job search

Don’t go it alone! When it comes to the job search, your spouse can lend ears, eyes and hands to help you find the right fit.

By Debbie Swanson | Feature Articles | Summer 2016


Securing a new job is an exciting step in your journey toward practicing medicine, but the job search itself can be a lengthy and time-consuming process. If you have a willing spouse, partner or significant other, the perfect assistant may be right by your side. They can play key roles—from keeping the job search organized and making initial contact, to acting as a sounding board as you evaluate your options, to traveling with you to on-site visits.

Developing a plan for working together can make the process run more smoothly and help you avoid costly errors down the road. Here are some tips for teaming up.

Lend another set of eyes

It may sound like a simple step, but having someone else look over your documents before you send them off can be critical: You won’t make a strong initial impression if your CV contains errors, typos or vague information.

Your spouse or partner—keenly aware of your goals—is in a great position to look over your materials and offer input. At minimum, a quick proofread is always in order; your own familiarity with the documents can easily result in overlooked errors. But if your partner’s talents are in writing or English, solicit more feedback. Is your background clearly spelled out? Are you sounding too modest, or too confident? Is each cover letter properly tailored for the desired position? Incorporate their feedback to improve your materials.

Keep things organized

A major job search can generate an overwhelming surge in correspondence, especially when relocation is a possibility. A spouse available and willing to take on the task can play a vital role in keeping information organized.

First, centralize the flow of information: Choose one email address and phone number for all job-related correspondence. Then talk with your spouse to clarify what steps they are willing to perform. These may include:

  • Entering your CV and contact information into job banks, such as
  • Recording job inquiries made by you and noting the manner of them (online, by phone or other).
  • Generating a list of all recruiters’ names and contact information and making note of those already contacted.
  • Making note of all responses received.
  • Keeping a list of action items and items in progress.
  • Giving each job prospect an interest level: high, medium or low.
  • Making note of the reasons for deciding against any opportunities.

A spreadsheet is a good way to track incoming and outgoing correspondence. It also provides both of you with a document that you can quickly scan for a snapshot of your current situation.

Be the first point of contact

If you’re working unconventional hours, returning phone calls can be difficult. In addition to monitoring the flow of information, your spouse may be willing to be your first point of contact—making preliminary phone calls or writing email responses. Most in-house recruiters consider this standard procedure.

“I’ll often talk to the spouse initially, who will explain the job is for her husband, who’s at work,” explains Cheryl Weisenberg, physician recruiter at AdvantageCare Physicians in New York City.

If your spouse is going to take on this role, discuss the following:

  • Specifics about the type of position you’re looking for
  • Any terminology they’ll encounter
  • Possible questions and preferred answers
  • Topics to be avoided
  • Your upcoming availability for phone calls, overnight visits or interviews

Though recruiters are used to interacting with physicians’ spouses, be sure that communicating via your spouse doesn’t go on too long. Steven Shasteen, senior physician in-house recruiter at Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, says recruiters are also eager to connect with the actual candidate.

“While talking to the spouse is helpful, we need to get to the physician fairly quickly,” he says. “The spouse could be running the search without really knowing what the physician wants.”

In addition, there are legal issues involved. “For example, with compensation, I need to speak directly to the physician themselves. They can share the information with their spouse, but I can’t do that,” adds Weisenberg.

Determine your goals as a couple

Picturing where you’ll eventually work is probably something you’ve done for years. Now that you’re about to jump deeper into the job search, your spouse plays a key role in helping to establish search criteria.

Together you should discuss all the factors involved with a major move: desired location, community, educational and professional opportunities and more. (For a list of factors and considerations to get your conversations going, see the sidebar.) Be honest and don’t hesitate to question or even disagree with each other. For example, if your husband is an avid skier but cheerfully agrees to the idea of moving to Florida for your career, dig a little deeper to discuss how that arrangement would work for him.

Once you’ve settled on some basic criteria, keep your search within those parameters; don’t waste time exploring an opportunity that one or both of you strongly opposes. Weisenberg has seen cases where that has resulted in conflict.

“I worked with a young graduate from California, and the spouse didn’t want to move to New York City. Unfortunately, the situation ended in divorce; (the spouse) would not come,” she recalls.

Manish Mehta, M.D., wound management and hyperbaric medicine physician at Orange County Wound and Hyperbaric in Santa Ana, California, recalls that discussing and evaluating criteria with his wife, Renay, was a key factor in finding the right position.

“Two minds think better than one. One may think of something that the other doesn’t or has not considered,” Manish Mehta says. “[The] job search is the most vital part of a doctor’s life; it heavily impacts you and your family’s lifestyle and future. So communication and [your spouse’s] involvement are key. Assess your priorities with your spouse: Is it money, family, location or lifestyle?”

Renay Mehta agrees that these discussions were invaluable. “We discussed geographic proximity to family, local resources for kids, school ratings, real estate costs and more.”

Speak for the entire family

All members of your family, including children or extended family living with you, will be affected by the changes accompanying your new job. Your spouse can help to make sure everyone’s needs are factored into the discussion. Ask them to devise a list of the factors important to the children or extended family, as well as anticipated changes over the next three to five years.

Marci Jackson, physician recruitment manager at Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield, Wisconsin, agrees that considering the entire family’s needs goes a long way toward making a successful match.

“If the children are in middle school or older, their needs are almost as important as the adults and may have significant influence in the decision,” says Jackson.

School and child care are the obvious requirements, but don’t hesitate to give weight to any relevant hobbies, talents or interests. For example, if your rising hockey star ends up two hours from the nearest ice rink, or your budding political activist lands at a high school without a debate team, the long-term satisfaction of the family may suffer.

“If the family isn’t happy, the physician will soon start looking for other career options,” says Jackson.

Plan for their own career

While considering other family members’ needs, your spouse or partner may fail to give enough thought to their own situation. Be sure to ask them to take time out to consider their own goals and plans.

If the job change will affect their professional path, spend some time discussing how they’ll adapt. Do they want to search actively for a job prior to the relocation or wait until after the move? If you are both in a medical profession, do you prefer to work at the same facility or separate?

“Particularly in some occupations, such as IT, spouses want to find a job (before the move),” says Shasteen, adding that most recruiters will try to make introductions even outside of their realm of interest.

Whatever your spouse decides, be sure you’re both on board with the approach.

When physician Ryan Baker was finishing up his fellowship at UCLA, his wife, Kristina, had plans to continue her career in special education but was comfortable putting her job search on hold until after the dust from the relocation settled.

“I wanted to get the family settled,” she recalls. “I knew I’d get my foot in the door somewhere and work my way to a position I’d want.” Within a few months of the move, she found a job she was happy with.

“I was fairly confident she’d find work, given her interest in special education in general,” recalls Ryan Baker, who is now settled as a pediatric hospitalist and outpatient pediatric sports medicine physician at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Children’s Hospital in Spokane, Washington.

Prepare for a deeper conversation

Once an opportunity begins looking like a serious possibility, most in-house physician recruiters will want to engage in a detailed conversation with your spouse or significant other. While they may have already spoken during preliminary conversations, this conversation will be different: Their goal is to get to know your family.

“If you don’t talk to the spouse early on, the whole effort can be a waste of time,” says Shasteen. “You have to build a rapport and a relationship with the person to make sure they’re a fit.”

For example, Shasteen, who recruits physicians for employment in Alaska, says he tries to make sure that the couple is up for the unique climate of the area. “You want to make sure the lifestyle will fit and, ideally for this area, that there’s some interest in outdoor recreation.”

Prepare for this conversation together by reviewing the joint criteria you’ve already established, as well as any other family needs, such as career or educational options.

Present a unified front

Once it comes time to hit the road for meetings and interviews, don’t plan to go it alone. Your prospective employer usually anticipates meeting all the decision-makers. Bringing along your spouse or partner helps present a unified front, relaying that you’re both informed—and on board—with the move.

One recruiter recalls a situation in which a physician traveled from the East Coast for a site visit, but his spouse did not accompany him due to difficulties rearranging her work schedule and the schedules of their school-age children.

The physician assured the recruiter that his wife was on board with the move, and he took the job. But it turns out that the couple wasn’t on the same page. In the end, the physician’s family only stayed in the new location for a month before returning back home. After several years of trying to make it work, the physician left to rejoin his family in their previous location.

It may be tempting to travel solo for the first visit with plans to return together if a job seems promising. But due to the logistics involved, it can be tricky to set up another round of meetings or a second extensive tour. Plus, you never know when something will surprise you—an opportunity that seemed mediocre on paper may suddenly come to life when you’re walking through the hospital or dining with some potential co-workers. It’s best if you’re both available and present from the start.

Dr Alashari

While considering a relocation from Florida to South Carolina, Akram Alashari, M.D., brought his wife, Karima, to visit the potential new employer. That helped her “get the vibe of the personalities working there,” Alashari says.

Akram Alashari, M.D., surgeon and critical care physician at Grand Strand Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, says that the opportunity for his wife, Karima, to meet the faculty and staff of the hospital proved helpful in his recent job change and relocation from Florida.

“The faculty took us both to dinner the night before [the interview], where she met everyone,” he explains. “The following day, they invited her to meet the CEO and COO of the hospital.”

He says her input helped shed additional light on how the couple would fit into the environment.

“She was able to get the vibe of the personalities working there, and she also got an understanding of their family situation so that we could have potential friends as opposed to just work partners [or] colleagues,” he recalls.

Manish and Renay Mehta add that another benefit of traveling together was the opportunity to discuss things while the impressions were fresh in their minds.

“Right after the interview [was a great time] to connect and discuss the pros and cons of the particular area and our areas of interest,” Renay recalls.

Divide and conquer

A one- or two-night visit can go by very quickly, particularly if you are preoccupied with interviews and meetings. Having your spouse available to gather valuable impressions and tour the surrounding area will help maximize your visit.

Obtain your agenda ahead of time so you both know what kind of free time is available. If you’re working with a recruiter, they may have already made arrangements for a realtor or someone else to provide a tour of the community. If not, be sure to make similar arrangements well ahead of time.

Before each trip, discuss what your spouse should try to visit. For instance:

  • Schools, day care centers or senior centers
  • Neighborhoods and homes at various price points
  • The local library and/or community center
  • Coaches of youth sports or high school teams, or enrichment centers for children’s interests in art, theater or music
  • Major shopping areas, grocery stores and entertainment
  • The local chamber of commerce

Alashari says his wife was instrumental in exploring the community. “She met with a real estate agent to look at homes in the area while I was interviewing. This gave us a better understanding of the community and school systems while I assessed the work situation,” he says.

As a result of their team coverage of the area, they both left with a good feeling about the prospective job, which Alashari ended up taking.

“My advice to physicians looking for a job would be to have their significant other travel with them,” Alashari says. “It helps get an understanding of the community, the hospital, as well as the potential future partners. Also, the spouse may pick up on things that the interviewee is not noticing, focused more on work-related issues.”

As you navigate further along your journey toward achieving your professional goals, including your spouse as a key player in the job search will result in an outcome that benefits everyone involved.

“Don’t just act quickly; it’s easy to jump to the first job offer, especially right after residency,” advises Manish Mehta. “Take the time to consider: What is the most important to you and your family?”



5 job-search questions physicians aren’t asking

Evaluating practice options? These five questions will help you know what factors to consider—about your career and about yourself.

By Laurie Morgan, MBA | Feature Articles | Summer 2016


Dr Marlene Grenon

Listening to your gut is so important,” says Marlene Grenon, M.D., about the work culture you choose. “…You need to find the right fit.”

Marlene Grenon, M.D., associate professor of surgery at University of California, San Francisco, and adjunct professor at the International Space University, Strasbourg, France, has known since she was a teenager that she wanted to pursue aerospace medicine. Having a clear vision gave her a leg up in career planning because it narrowed her options, but even for those committed to a specific niche of medicine, there are still many choices to make. These choices affect everything from your ability to avoid burnout, to having a satisfying balance of work life and family life, to keeping your options open down the road.

“Listening to your gut is so important,” Grenon tells her mentees at UCSF. “The environment that you work in, the team that you work with, it’s so important. You need to find the right fit.”

Your gut can help you find the environment that will make your first—or next—job satisfying and rewarding. But to engage your instincts and choose well, it’s important first to ask the right questions. That means not only thoroughly examining your would-be employers but also examining yourself. Here are five important questions you may not have considered that can help you tackle important career decisions with confidence—whether you’re contemplating a specific job or just trying to decide on a practice setting.

Question 1: Have I built the right network?

A strong, diverse personal network is an invaluable asset in career decision-making. One key reason is that not all jobs are posted publicly; your ideal fit may come through a friend or other trusted contact, especially one you’ve worked with before.

Azra Ashraf MD

Azra Ashraf, M.D., MPH, was more open-minded about practice settings and compensation models in her second job search than she was in her first.

Azra Ashraf, M.D., MPH, a plastic surgeon in private practice in Washington, D.C., recently left behind a role that wasn’t a good fit in favor of a job she found through a friend she met in residency. She believes working with contemporaries leads to a natural rapport that fosters a positive work experience. “Now I’ll work alongside friends whose personalities I already know and whose values I know I share.”

Even though networking is valuable in career planning, many new physicians are unaware of its importance. After all, it’s not something you’re taught in medical school or residency, where the focus is almost entirely on academic credentials and clinical skills.

“Too many young physicians think that if I tick the right boxes, if I go to the right medical school and do the right residency, that’s enough” to set them on their way, says Andrew Cain McClary, M.D., staff physician with Grand Rounds and consulting assistant professor of pathology at Stanford University. But mentors and connections won’t materialize without effort, he says. “Success is about the hustle, too.”

Networking can feel awkward to young professionals in any field, and physicians are no exception. But you don’t have to look too far to establish—or re-establish—a diverse network. In addition to friends from med school and residency, family members and undergraduate classmates can be valuable connections.

“My undergraduate friends kept me connected to the business world, helping me learn where investors see opportunities in medicine,” McClary says. He began to see an intersection of technology and the “old-school” slide analysis process of pathology. This first led him to think about a move to Silicon Valley to explore startup opportunities driven by the Sand Hill Road venture capital community.

Josh Parker, M.D., a pediatrician with Pediatric Wellness Group in Redwood City, California, adds that advisers from outside your immediate circle also provide essential perspective in evaluating your career options. “Without help from people with business knowledge or more experience in medicine, it’s hard to even know what questions to ask potential employers.” Understanding the implications of contract terms, for example, is easier with help from others with relevant experience.

Question 2: Am I limiting my options unnecessarily?

When student loans loom large, many young physicians are tempted to pursue only those opportunities that offer the highest or most secure compensation. But after working in a role that wasn’t a match for her goals or work style, Ashraf now sees value in being more open-minded about practice settings and compensation models. In her new position, her income will be based entirely on the revenue she generates—and she is confident she’ll be happier.

“Our structure is solo practices with cost-sharing. I’ll have the autonomy to pave my own way,” she says. The structure gives her the freedom to make decisions about marketing and staff additions because these costs would come out of her own revenue stream.

Financially this may seem risky, but income promises in more typical employment situations may not be realistic either, especially if they’re based on aggressive, best-case productivity goals. “What I’ve learned is that if it looks too good financially, it probably isn’t realistic,” says Ashraf.

McClary also believes it’s important to be open-minded—even when considering your first job and even when loans are a concern. “The financial burden is ridiculous, but you can’t lose sight of how needed we are.” If your skills are indispensable, a company that could use them might even help with the loan burden.

Rather than fighting disruptive economic trends, McClary suggests that young physicians can choose to apply their training to new medical and business models. Startup ventures that seek to transform the way health care is delivered—like the one McClary works for—are scooping up young physicians and expanding their options for contributing to medicine.

“The skill set you gain in medicine is so valuable. You can apply that knowledge in many settings,” adds Grenon. She notes that, even for physicians who start out in a typical practice setting, there are many opportunities to switch to, for example, a pharmaceutical company or a health care startup down the road. “You can apply your knowledge to a completely different area.”

Question 3: Do I know what’s needed to be successful?

Every job comes with expectations, both written and unwritten. It’s not uncommon for a physician learning the ropes to encounter surprises and frustrations if the rules for success aren’t clear.

“When you’re a new doctor in a large organization, your superiors will notice if, say, you’re ordering a blood test for every kid with a cough and a runny nose,” Parker says. “It’s appropriate for them to question, but it’s also normal to need to learn these things” when you’re in your first job.

Parker advises those evaluating opportunities to ask how they would receive input from more experienced colleagues within an organization—and what that organization’s culture dictates about asking for help. Is it OK just to knock on a colleague’s door—or is there a more formal process? “Before accepting a position, be sure you know what you’ll be evaluated on, how feedback is delivered and how you’ll get help to improve,” Parker adds.

Productivity goals are common in physician contracts, and it’s important to understand what is required to meet them. Asking about the number of patients you’ll need to see each day to meet revenue goals will help you clarify expectations—but your ability to keep pace is just one piece of the productivity puzzle. You’ll also need to be sure that enough patients are available for you to see.

“One challenge was that it was hard to attract referrals because we accepted only a handful of insurance plans,” Ashraf explains. “Primary care physicians want to refer to surgeons that meet their patients’ preferences,” and most patients place the ability to use their insurance at the top of the list.

When compensation is tied to revenue goals, it’s always a good idea to be sure you’ll be able to accept the health plans that are most popular among your target patients. And if the practice doesn’t already have enough overflow demand to keep you busy, you’ll also need to know what help you’ll get to attract more patients. For example, have important marketing channels such as hospital relationships and an informative website already been established?

Other aspects of the practice infrastructure—such as EHR and other technologies and the number of support staff members per physician—also contribute significantly to physicians’ ability to be fully productive. If possible, it’s helpful to meet the staff who would support you in order to gauge their commitment to growing your practice. Benchmarking data from organizations like the Medical Group Management Association is another excellent tool to help you infer how well a potential employer supports its physicians with staffing, as well as its comparative financial performance.

Question 4: How can I stay creative and engaged?

The pace of change in health care and the increasing demands placed on physicians make burnout more of a consideration than ever. Even when considering your first position, it’s not too early to think about how you’ll stay challenged, motivated and committed to medicine.

“In medical school, you’re learning all these facts,” says McClary. “If all you’re going to do at work is repeat those facts, you’re going to burn out. Burnout is real.”

“We’re all searching to make a difference in the world and help others,” Grenon adds. A mix of activities—from practicing, to teaching, to performing research—helps her stay engaged. “When we’re doing research, we’re at the edge of science, and we have to think of new concepts. We have to be creative to find better ways to solve problems.”

While Grenon’s academic post helps her stretch her intellectual muscles, physicians in large health systems and private practices can also find opportunities to grow and contribute in new ways, even if they have to look a little harder. Clinical research pairs well with private practice, for example.

Other physicians look to give back through volunteer opportunities at home or abroad. Ashraf takes an annual trip to Pakistan, where she works with a colleague to treat victims of domestic violence. The flexibility to commit time to this volunteer work was another factor that she weighed in choosing her current position.

“You become unidimensional in medical school,” Ashraf says. “When you start your career, it’s your chance to go back to your original vision, to what led you to seek your degree.” In addition to her volunteer commitment, for Ashraf, getting back to her original vision meant reconnecting with her interest in public policy, which led her to pursue a master’s in public health during medical school and also influenced her choice of a new practice.

McClary also notes that it’s more possible than ever to pursue multiple tracks at the same time and that variety keeps your career fresh. “Our training involves a rigid system. But your career can be flexible—there’s pharma, outpatient work, digital health. You can freelance and participate in several options.”

Question 5: Does this organization fit into my long-term vision?

When you’re considering options for your first job after a lengthy academic journey, your long-term career may be the last thing on your mind. But even if your future goals are yet to be determined, it’s useful to pin down some of your priorities—if only to avoid feeling stuck later on.

“Don’t forget to consider what happens when the contract ends,” advises Parker. If the contract you’re evaluating doesn’t specifically discuss renewal or extension, you may not be able to stay with the practice at the end of your term. That can be a problem if the contract also includes restrictions that prohibit you from joining another organization in the same area—especially if you’ve invested a lot of time and energy creating a patient panel you are no longer allowed to serve.

Building a practice in one spot can also make it financially unattractive to start over in another community later on, which can be a big challenge if you had your heart set on settling down somewhere else.

“I recommend thinking about where you want to live and trying to find a position there, keeping in mind that there has to be enough demand for your specialty in the area,” says Ashraf. Contracts that include financial perks that have to be earned out, such as loan repayments or relocation expenses tied to the contract term or revenue goals, can also make moving costly if your plans change before the terms are met.

Location may also be a factor if you’re hoping eventually to switch from a traditional practice environment to another industry such as pharmaceuticals, devices, biotech or health IT. In that case, it pays to do some research before deciding where you’ll land; your options extend beyond the best-known venture capital hubs of the Silicon Valley, Boston, New York and Los Angeles. Energy and capital for pharmaceutical research, biotech ventures and other types of health care startups have coalesced more recently in places like Tampa, San Diego, Houston, Austin, Nashville and the Research Triangle region of North Carolina.

And what if the job you’re considering is one you hope to stick with for the long haul? It’s important to get a close read on the practice’s own five- or 10-year plan. For example, if you’re joining a small private practice and expect you’ll prefer that environment, try to assess the practice’s commitment to staying independent.

“Smaller practices often end up selling and joining up with larger groups because a senior partner decides to retire and none of the other partners wants to deal with managing,” Parker points out.

If you believe you’ll want to be a partner yourself someday, try to understand the motivations and priorities of the current partners—as well as what it would take to join them down the road. For example, would you need to buy in to become a partner? And should you think about management training along the way?

Regardless of how sure you are that the setting attracting you today is the best one for you long-term, you may find that it’s a perfect fit once you’ve started—so find out whether the organization plans to keep moving in the same direction in years to come.

Your first step in a long career—with many potential paths

A common theme shared by Ashraf, Grenon, McClary and Parker is the benefit of remaining open to a wide variety of possibilities. After so many years of studying and preparing, it’s natural to want to make the best possible choice in your first role on your own as a physician. But remember that your vision of an ideal career may change as you progress.

In many ways, there’s never been a better time to be a physician. Opportunities abound in many settings. Wherever you land in this job search, you’ll learn something to help you in your next role. The key at every stage is to consider—and be open to—your many potential options.



How real physicians search for jobs

Candidates weigh in on how they found their dream practice

By Marcia Layton Turner | Feature Articles | Spring 2016


For physicians, there’s no such thing as a typical job-search process. Some physicians explore several practice types; others choose one early on. Some need visa help; others don’t. Some stay put; others move across the country. These variables and many others mean your search may include twists and turns your colleagues never experience.

The good news is that’s OK. Your goal is finding a practice that fits you. After all, that’s the test of a successful job search: Are you happy where you land? Exactly how you land there is up to you.

We found three physicians whose job searches were quite different, yet all successful. Here’s how they found their perfect fits.

The proactive approach

The physician perspective

Otolaryngologist Michael Vietti, M.D., had been actively looking for a new position for about a year before accepting a role as a staff physician at Wilson Health in Sidney, Ohio.

His search tactics consisted mainly of speaking with the steady stream of contingency recruiters who called with new opportunities and regularly scanning online job postings. The sites he checked most frequently included academies such as the American Academy of Otolaryngology, as well as career sites such as PracticeLink. It was there that he spotted a listing at Wilson Health in Sidney, Ohio, a little more than an hour from his former position in Columbus.

Before beginning his search, Vietti had made a list of what he was looking for–the must-haves as well as what he was willing to give up.

Although Vietti was willing to give up his Columbus location, he recognized that his spouse was less interested; she wanted to stay in the Columbus area until their child finished high school. A position in Sidney was close enough that he could almost commute.

So Vietti did a little research, looking into Wilson Health’s staff roster, facility, and digging to uncover any recent issues. Seeing that there might be a fit, he called the in-house recruiter, David Andrick, directly for the scoop. After that conversation, he submitted his CV for consideration, followed by a couple of trips to Sidney to meet with staff members and administrators in person. He also asked Andrick for a list of staff members he could call about the hospital’s work environment.

The more he learned about Wilson Health, the more Vietti saw that it met all of his must-haves.

Dr Vietti

Otolaryngologist Michael Vietti, M.D.

Vietti’s search was successful in part because he was patient. And that’s the advice he offers other physicians regarding their own search: “Take your time.” Don’t jump at the first opportunity. “It’s a business decision,” he points out, so try and look at each facility or practice objectively as you weigh your options. Don’t be pressured into signing a contract on your first site visit, or before you’re sure this is the best opportunity for you right now. Take the time to carefully research and vet each opening.

Today, Vietti drives back and forth between Columbus and Sidney two or three times a week, spending alternating nights at an apartment close to the hospital. “There’s no such thing as perfect,” he says, but for him, Wilson Health came close.

The employer perspective

Rather than sitting back and hoping to be contacted, David Andrick, director of physician recruitment and relations for Wilson Health, takes a decidedly proactive approach to get in front of physicians who may be thinking about making a move. He advertises in journals, posts on websites like PracticeLink, uses contingency recruiters, sends direct mail and attends national specialty meetings.

In fact, Andrick did all of these things in order to attract attention from leading otolaryngologists when the hospital had an opening about 24 months ago. “One doctor had retired and another was pulling back on his hours, so we needed to fill that role,” Andrick says.

In this case, it was the PracticeLink posting that caught Vietti’s eye. Andrick asked for Vietti’s CV, reviewed it, and set up a site visit soon thereafter. The fact that Vietti was almost local was promising from the outset.

“We have good schools in a small town with a solid hospital,” says Andrick. “It’s a nice place to live and work,” which Vietti already recognized. For candidates from outside the area, Andrick tries to “get personal fast,” to help prospective hires feel a part of the community right from the start. Because if they can see themselves living and working in Sidney, the recruitment process becomes much easier.

Andrick hires 6 to 12 physicians a year, so “bringing one or two new doctors in can have a major impact” on hospital operations. In Vietti’s case, that impact has been all positive. “He did more ENT surgeries in 2015 than we had done in the last five years combined,” says Andick. “He has been one of our most important placements to date.”

Because of the size of the facility, hiring is “a very selective process,” says Andrick. Once a need is confirmed in the community, Andrick initiates the outreach process to find candidates. Even then, however, Wilson Health is extremely selective. Because it is a smaller community, it’s important to bring in people who will be a good fit. Says Andrick: “You have to be careful who you recruit because you’re going to have to live with them.”

Referrals open doors

The physician perspective

The bonds Laura Hahn, M.D., formed with internal medicine faculty members during her residency ultimately led to her perfect job. After graduating from West Virginia University School of Medicine, Hahn started a residency at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. She hoped to stay in the area after residency, so she started networking and exploring opportunities in earnest during her third year. She spent time in clinics and shadowed in an outpatient setting to learn more about it. Shadowing confirmed her inclination toward an outpatient-only practice in Baltimore.

Once she knew where she wanted to end up, Hahn let others know what she was after. Communicating her goals attracted the attention of attending physicians. “I had several attendings talk to me about openings,” she says. They subsequently made introductions for her. “The doctors were eager to help,” says Hahn. Since they knew her well, the physicians could see she would fit well in such a practice. “You develop close relationships with faculty, and they see you in action and how you are with patients,” says Hahn. Those relationships gave her an in with local practices where her attending physicians worked.

Laura Hahn MD

A residency at a smaller community hospital helped Laura Hahn, M.D., stand out and build relationships with her colleagues—two attributes that came in handy when she began her job search.

A residency at a smaller community hospital helped Hahn get to know those physicians, too. She had only 11 internal medicine residents in her class, compared to the typical class size of 30 to 60 at larger hospitals.

But even in a small class, Hahn stood out because she wanted to pursue a practice position in Baltimore straight out of residency instead of applying for a fellowship. She asked attending physicians lots of questions about contract negotiation, employers’ reputations and their personal experiences with the hiring process. As a result, Hahn says, “I had all the attention from the attendings.”

Hahn began interviewing with several practices in October of her last year in residency and finished up in December, accepting an offer from the first place she had met with: Mercy Medical Center. “I saw how different the practice was, how open and honest they were in response to my questions,” she says. No other practice gave her the same comfort level.

But she didn’t just rely on her impression from that one interview. Hahn also spoke with physicians already employed at Mercy. Sandy Edwards, senior vice president of physician delivery systems at Mercy, interviewed Hahn, gave her a list of all the physicians at Mercy and each of their email addresses, and encouraged her to ask them for an insider’s perspective on the workplace. Hahn emailed about 10 on that list; all of them responded and assured her they were very happy with their employer.

The employer perspective

When one of Edwards’ physicians told him that “the best resident we’ve ever had” was interested in working at Mercy, Edwards acted quickly to bring in Hahn and interview her.

Edwards felt the need for speed in hiring because finding primary care physicians is highly competitive. “There is a tremendous shortage of primary care doctors, with their numbers declining for the last 20 years…even as the number of doctors needed rises,” explains Edwards. He says that the shortage in 2000 was the equivalent of 9,000 doctors and that by 2025, that figure will rise to 65,000. In the short term, that means there are fewer people to recruit.

To attract strong candidates to grow a practice or replace a retiring physician, Edwards relies heavily on the 210 physicians at Mercy to identify and recruit new physicians.

Fortunately for physicians who want to do primary care in Baltimore, Mercy is a solid option. “We are known as doctor-friendly. We treat everyone as professionals, and we have a good reputation,” says Edwards.

The try-before-you-buy approach

The physician perspective

Like Hahn, leading pulmonologist Thomas O’Mara, M.D., was in demand. He was already at a private practice in Charleston, South Carolina, when recruiters started calling.

After relocating to central New York to be closer to family a few years later, O’Mara started searching for a permanent position that would provide a good salary and security for his family. “With private practice, you know that you have pay coming in—the security of a regular paycheck,” he says.

He was looking primarily for a permanent position, but he also considered other career options. He filled out an online request to learn more about locum tenens work and almost immediately received a call from a recruiter from CompHealth in Utah. The recruiter explained how locum tenens positions worked. O’Mara was intrigued but not ready to give up his search for a steady paycheck.

But the recruiter was persistent, checking in regularly to see if he could do anything to interest O’Mara in a trial position. “[He] did not give up,” says O’Mara about the recruiter. Although O’Mara was fielding plenty of other recruiter calls, his discussions with the CompHealth recruiter were different. “He was always very nice, professional, courteous, and he always remembered little details that no one else did,” says O’Mara.

Then one day, the recruiter called and told O’Mara, “I’ve got a place in South Carolina that could really use you for a weekend. Why don’t you give it a try?” Figuring he had little to lose since there was no commitment beyond that weekend, O’Mara agreed. “I was hooked after that,” he says.

That opportunity to work as a locum tenens physician allowed O’Mara to learn what employers expected, what the routine was like, who he would be working with, and what issues could arise. It was exactly what he needed. It helped him see that many of his preconceived notions about locum tenens were inaccurate.

Instead of working a full week for a regular paycheck, O’Mara can now decide how much he works and, effectively, how much he earns. Today, he works about two weeks away from home and then flies home and has two weeks solid with his family. In 2015, O’Mara took five straight weeks of vacation. “I couldn’t have taken that time off in private practice,” he says.

The employer perspective

Rachael Fletcher now serves as O’Mara’s key contact at CompHealth. Fletcher and O’Mara have worked together so long that their professional relationship has also become personal. “I consider him a friend,” says Fletcher.

As a friend, Fletcher has a good idea which opportunities are good fits for O’Mara and his family, and which he would never consider. She knows him so well that in some cases she can convince him to take a second look at assignments he initially would have rejected. Fletcher invested time in understanding what is important to O’Mara, and she does this with all the physicians she recruits.

During the initial interview process, Fletcher looks for key attributes. “I’m looking for someone who is trustworthy, who is going to get [his or her] paperwork in on time, and someone who is flexible,” she says. Locum tenens physicians need to be highly adaptable. They have to switch between different types of facilities and workloads. Thus, during the first call with a potential locum tenens physician, Fletcher asks a series of qualifying questions to assess how well a candidate would fit the job and how easy it would be to bring him or her on board.

Having interviewed O’Mara, the team at CompHealth knew he would quickly become in-demand, and he has. His temporary employers regularly ask him to sign a permanent contract, and he always declines. After initial hesitation, O’Mara has learned to love the locum tenens life.

Marcia Layton Turner is a frequent contributor to PracticeLink Magazine.



Your job search countdown

Becoming a physician is hard. Finding a job doesn’t have to be! Take control of your job search with this guide.

By Karen Edwards | Feature Articles | Spring 2016


With the end of her training in sight, Courtney Palguta, D.O., was looking for a practice. But she wasn’t looking just anywhere—she wanted to work in a specific region.

“I trained in Michigan but knew I wanted to move to the Southeast to practice,” Palguta says. “I knew I had better start my job search early if I were to find a hospital in the Lexington area.” So the Kentucky hospitalist searched online job boards and sent CVs out in July 2014, a year before she finished training.

Applying early has its rewards. Securing a job before your training is complete is satisfying, especially if it meets your preferences. But the job search starts long before you fill out your first application. To apply early, you’ve also got to prepare early.

David Sypert DO

David Sypert, D.O., chief resident for internal medicine at OhioHealth’s Riverside Methodist Hospital, waited to request letters of recommendation. “I’d rather have developed a three-year relationship with them than a few months,” he says.

“Timing is key in the job search process,” says Donna Newman, corporate director of physician recruiting for OhioHealth. “The better prepared you are, the better organized and less pressured you are, and that results in a better impression at an interview.”

So when should you start? The answer varies.

“Ask that question, and you’ll get 10 different answers,” says Jay Woody, M.D., cofounder and chief medical officer of Legacy ER & Urgent Care in Texas. The right timing depends on your priorities, he says.

Talbot McCormick, M.D., president and CEO of Eagle Hospital Physicians in Georgia, offers this general rule of thumb: “By the time you’re in your second year of residency, you should earnestly start your job search. …If you’re in a subspecialty that’s not in demand, you may want to start earlier.”

The right timeline varies depending on your specialty, location and preferences, but this general overview will help.

Prep work: medical school through residency

Build your CV with activities

You’ll need to show potential employers that you have more than medical skills. You’ll also need to show that you have initiative, according to Yvonne Braver, M.D., program director of internal medicine for Brandon Regional Hospital in Florida.

“I suggest residents take part in as many activities as they can, beginning the first day of residency,” she says. “Participate in the recruitment season, write a journal article, get extra certification, attend a training conference, give grand rounds.” When you do, add that activity to your CV.

Said Awad, M.D., now in his first year of an internal medicine residency at Brandon Regional Hospital, started building his CV while he was in med school. He found time to join a committee of his national specialty association and even created his own mini-internship by volunteering as an observer for a researcher in his field.

“Any time you can take a leadership position, you are building your résumé in a positive direction,” says Newman.

And it’s never too early to start.

Pull your CV together

As you build your list of accomplishments and activities, make sure you track everything so your CV will be ready to go when you need it.

Woody suggests keeping your CV up to date at all times. Waiting to put it together until you’re in full job-search mode means you might forget important updates or miss out on an opportunity you weren’t expecting to become available. Review your CV every few months to make it a more manageable task.

Jay Woody MD

Already have an idea of where you want to work? Touch base with the in-house recruiter there as an information-gathering or networking activity. “You’re not asking for a job at that time,” says Jay Woody, M.D. “You’re just putting yourself on their radar.”

Consider your social media activity

Be especially careful about what you post on social media. Right or wrong, society holds physicians to a higher standard than those in other professions. Anything that seems offbeat or off-color may keep you from the job you want.

For this reason, some physicians choose not to use social media at all. “I deleted my Facebook account as soon as I entered medical school,” says Awad. And David Sypert, D.O., chief resident for OhioHealth’s Riverside Methodist Hospital’s internal medicine program, says he’s never had social media accounts.

If you do use social media, be careful what you post and how you manage your privacy settings. Palguta says she’s careful about whom she selects as friends. “And I have every firewall setting turned on,” she adds.

“We do take a look at what’s on social networking sites,” says Newman. She explains that most physicians network through LinkedIn since it’s considered more professional than social. But even there, evaluate your posts carefully.

“Think twice before posting photos,” warns Braver. And don’t post anything that tears down past or present employers, colleagues or teachers. As Braver explains, “You don’t want to burn bridges.”

“Any goofy thing you post online can be viewed by a hiring authority,” says Tim Mulvaney, recruitment director for the Oregon-based recruiting firm UHC Solutions. “One off-the-cuff comment interpreted the wrong way will cost you the job you want.”

Forward momentum: residency, years 1–3

Gather recommendation letters and references

“Line up your references a year in advance,” suggests Newman. A letter from your program director is a must. Newman also suggests stepping outside the box and seeking references from head nurses.

Ask for letters as you go. If you don’t think to ask at the time of rotation, Braver warns, “You may be chasing your tail when you need them.” Or worse, you may be unable to locate your reference in time.

Sypert did things differently. He cultivated long-term relationships before asking for letters. He explains, “I had in mind who I wanted to get letters from.” But he waited until he was in his third year before approaching them. “I’d rather have developed a three-year relationship with them than a few months,” he says.

No matter when you decide to collect letters—or from whom—choose your references wisely. It’s not just a formality—your references will be called.

“Employers will contact them and may even send a list of questions for them to answer,” Braver says. If you’re unsure how a potential reference might respond, you may not want to add his or her letter to your packet.

Put yourself out there

Now is the time to network, says Tim Lary, vice president of physician staffing for IPC Healthcare. In addition to building relationships with attending physicians and mentors, he suggests that residents go to medical and specialty society meetings. “It’s affordable and gives you an opportunity to meet a wide range of people,” Lary says.

Already have an idea of where you want to work? Touch base with the employer or in-house recruiter as an information-gathering or networking activity. “You’re not asking for a job at that time,” says Woody. “You’re just putting yourself on their radar.”

Newman recalls one physician who contacted her while he was in his second year of training. “He told me he wanted to work here when he was finished with his residency, and he continued to keep in touch every few months.” He wasn’t calling to find out about jobs. He would simply make conversation on a few topics, keeping in touch like a friend. It made an impression. Newman hired him following his residency.

Newman suggests another way to put yourself out there is to moonlight at the practice or facility where you wish to work.

Get organized—residency, years 2–3

Set your job priorities

Before you start looking for work, take time to determine exactly what it is you want to do. “Don’t accept a job just for the money,” says Braver. “Consider if you really want to work there, if it’s the kind of culture where you can thrive.”

Base your decisions not only on the type of practice, but where and how you want to work—and live. All of those factors will help guide your search.

“There are four pieces to the employment puzzle: geographic location, the practice you want, the finances you need and quality of life,” Lary explains. “Everybody’s pieces look different. You have to decide what puzzle pieces to put first.”

Discuss decisions with your family first

Many physicians aren’t making these decisions alone. “If you have a spouse or family, the most important thing you can do is sit down with them and discuss what you want to do and where you want to go,” says Newman. “Get their input before deciding where to apply.”

As an in-house recruiter, Newman has hired applicants who were disappointed to learn their spouses didn’t want to move. “Discuss your plans with everyone who may be involved,” she says. Once everyone is on board, then you can begin your job search.

“We used to interview spouses when we interviewed the applicant,” Lary says. “It’s that important for everyone to be on the same page.” And as more physician-couples emerge on the scene, there’s extra pressure to make employment decisions together, not as independent individuals.

Start researching opportunities

Once you and your family have discussed priorities and locations, start researching jobs.

Start your search on for opportunities by profession, specialty and geographic interest area. Create a profile there to create, store and send your CV and receive alerts of new jobs that match your preferences.

Also check in with colleagues, mentors or other professional contacts who work at the places you want to work. “They may know of opportunities through the grapevine,” says Andrew Murphy, M.D., an emergency medicine specialist and medical director of Legacy ER & Urgent Care who took time after residency to earn his MBA. “You can also call the in-house recruiter there and ask what kind of opportunities might be available by the time you leave training,” he adds.

Another option is to network with potential employers at your specialty’s conference. Murphy says employers and recruiters sometimes go to these conferences to find physicians to hire. Sypert has found job fairs and recruiting events organized by local hospital systems a good avenue for finding openings. “I plan to stay in the area, so I’m looking at local opportunities,” he says.

Consider your schedule

Try to schedule some flexible rotations in the fall so you’ll have time to travel and meet with potential employers.

“That’s not always easy to do,” says Murphy. “Residency is pretty demanding, but you might be able to find someone who will work your shift for you. It’s easier if you plan to stay in the area; you can schedule an interview on your day off. If you have to travel for interviews, that can be harder. I know residents who were looking for work in another area, and they scheduled as many interviews as possible in the time they had.”

If you’re planning a vacation, you might visit the area where you’re looking for work. While Murphy was vacationing in Florida, he took time to do some interviews. “I’m from that area and thought I might look around and see what’s there,” he says. He called various facilities ahead of time and scheduled tours, which became impromptu interviews. Although he decided to stay in Texas, he did receive offers in Florida.

Final countdown—residency, year 3


Send out your CV. You’ve done your research, you’ve made connections and you know where the jobs are. Around July in the final year of your residency, you can start sending your CV to the potential employers on your list.

Contact recruiters and potential employers. Once you’ve sent your CV, it’s your job as the candidate to keep the lines of communication open. “Find time to meet with the recruiter, and be honest when answering questions,” Mulvaney advises.

Don’t forget to follow up with them. “That was the most surprising part of the job-search process,” says Palguta. “I sent résumés, and I heard from one recruiter right away. But a couple of others didn’t respond at all. I had to call them to see if they received my résumé.”

…But don’t stalk your recruiter. “They’re doing the best they can to find you the position you want,” Mulvaney says. “It doesn’t help if you’re contacting them several times a day.”

Generally, it’s appropriate to reach out if you haven’t heard back within a week or two after sending your CV.

Prepare for interviews. While you wait to hear about opportunities, use your free time to prepare for interviews. “Research the company, and be able to tell them of any difficulties they’re experiencing and how you can be part of the solution,” Mulvaney suggests.

Practice is also key. “We went through mock interviews during training,” Sypert says. “It taught us how to present ourselves and our best qualities.”

September and October

Interview. “Make the time to present yourself professionally,” Woody says. Look the part—there is such a thing as too casual.

“When I was touring facilities in Florida, I heard people tell me, ‘I don’t feel like I need to interview you because you look like you’re serious about a job,’” Murphy says. “I showed up in a suit and polished my shoes. That’s all it took.”

Interviews also provide an opportunity to experience workplace culture and see how you’ll fit in, says Palguta. “Make sure it’s a good fit for you before you move on with the process,” she suggests.

But don’t approach interviews with the wrong attitude. Lary says, “We want people who come here for the opportunity, not to see if they want the job.” And Woody advises, “Don’t appear overconfident.”

Follow up after interviews. Send a thank-you note after each interview. “It should reflect the conversation you had and that you’re grateful for the opportunity,” says Braver.

Braver says that an email note will do, but Murphy and Sypert say they always handwrite a message. “I think it’s appreciated because most people these days don’t take the time to send handwritten notes,” says Murphy.

Awad suggests waiting two weeks before contacting the employer for their decision, and Murphy and Palguta say they would likely contact an employer after a week. However, Sypert says he never needed to do any follow-ups. “The employer did a good job providing a general timeline regarding the interview process,” he says.

Newman says applicants should ask at the interview when they can expect to hear from the employer. “If you didn’t ask, and you haven’t heard from the employer after two weeks, then call and ask if you’re still being considered for the job,” she says.

November and December

Inform your potential employers of your decision. Just as you don’t want an employer to delay the hiring decision, your employer doesn’t want you to delay yours. “Let the employer know within a few weeks of a job offer,” advises Newman. “You don’t want to leave the organization hanging.”

And you don’t want to miss out on a job opportunity, says Woody, even if you’re considering more than one offer. “If you play hard to get, you don’t get gotten,” adds Mulvaney. “You may miss an opportunity because the interviewer thinks you don’t want the job.”

But before you can accept a job, you have to get one. This timeline should help. As most experts and newly employed physicians will tell you, jumpstarting your job search is a good idea.

“If you delay the process, it could delay your license, your start date, and a first paycheck,” says Palguta. “Having a gap between your residency and your first job might work for some. …But if you need a paycheck when you’re through training, you need to start your job search early.”



Is your CV working?

When it’s time to get your CV ready for your job search, make sure you give recruiters what they need.

By Tim Boden | Feature Articles | Spring 2016


In most professions, job applicants prepare and submit a standard two-page résumé to potential employers. But physicians, like senior executives, attorneys, professors and scientists, must have the longer, more detailed description provided by a curriculum vitae or “CV” if they want to be seriously considered for a new opportunity.

What’s the difference?

When it comes to résumés, the timeworn axiom “less is more” usually applies. Beginning job-seekers are regularly instructed to keep their résumés short—no more than two pages. But a CV is expected to be longer. Think of it like gold, assayed for content and weight. An experienced professional will bring a CV heavy with impressive details, and it will usually prove more valuable. On the other hand, padding a less-experienced professional’s CV with extraneous information will devalue the document and reduce your chances for serious consideration.

Second-year psychiatry resident Lauren Pengrin, D.O., who is finishing up her training at Washington, D.C.’s St. Elizabeths Hospital, won a PracticeLink CV makeover last year from experts at Resume Orbit after attending a PracticeLink Live! event. (Find one near you at

Her first efforts to construct a CV had her cruising the Internet for templates and advice without any personal help. To be thorough, she included every little detail about her educational experience she could think of.

During her CV makeover process, though, she learned that packing your CV with insignificant details does more harm than good. It interrupts the flow of your document and obscures your main message.

Critical-care pulmonologist Peter Tofts, M.D., agrees: “Too much detail—especially up front—becomes just ‘white noise’ that masks who you really are.” Tofts began his first private-practice job this past year with Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle in Columbus, Mississippi.

“While résumés tend to focus on previous job history and performance, a CV places greater emphasis on education, training, board certification, publications and presentations,” says Jack Valancy, a Cleveland, Ohio-based practice management consultant who specializes in physician career coaching.

In addition to the components usually found in a résumé, a professional CV will typically include additional features like:

  • Medical licenses, board certifications or eligibility
  • Relevant course work
  • Scientific or academic research, laboratory experience, grants received
  • Papers, books and other related publications you have written
  • Academic or professional presentations delivered
  • Travel/exposure to relevant cultural experiences
  • Related extracurricular activities, professional and association memberships
  • Additional information that may support and demonstrate your qualifications
  • Other professional development efforts you have undertaken

The longer you have been practicing, the longer your CV will be. An experienced physician—especially one involved in academia—may have a CV extending to 20 or more pages.

However, if you’re just getting started, don’t be distracted by any epic CVs you have seen. Instead, stick to constructing a succinct—but thorough—picture of who you are and what you want. In other words, stay focused on your main message.

Your main message

Have you ever stopped to consider a CV’s main purpose? You wouldn’t undertake any other writing project without knowing what you were trying to accomplish!

Of course, candidates hope that impressive CVs will help them land the jobs of their dreams, but CVs can’t get you a job. In your search for your next practice, a CV can only get you one thing: an interview. Keeping that in mind can help you decide what to include and how to organize your document.

Think of your CV like a highly specialized brochure designed to pique an employer’s interest in you. Hopefully your CV will catch the eye of someone and make them want to meet you face-to-face, or at least to invest in a phone call with you.

Pengrin MD

Lauren Pengrin, D.O., won a CV makeover after attending a PracticeLink Live! event. “My revised CV was clearly better than my original one, which was more academic. The finished product is more employment oriented,” she says.

Pengrin points out the CV’s two-fold aim: “First, to present an accurate picture of your skills, credentials and ambitions; and second, to help the employer recognize how well you will fit the job opening.”

Your CV therefore becomes an important part of the first impression you make on decision-makers who have the power to offer you a job. You’ll want your main message to be positive (showing your strengths and assets), dynamic (avoiding static and passive phrasing) and above all, accurate. Making a false first impression is a recipe for disaster—a good fit requires openness and honesty.

When constructing your CV, keep these three questions in mind to make sure your main message comes through:

Who are you?

Certainly you will want potential employers to recognize your training, credentials and experience. Your CV lists the ingredients that make up you. Leaving out key components is one of the fastest ways to end up in a recruiter’s “reject” pile.

Mike Andrews, chief operations officer at OCH Regional Medical Center in Starkville, Mississippi, doesn’t see very many instant rejects these days.

“But I will quickly disregard CVs that are too short or have gaps in educational and employment timelines,” he says. “The same holds true for disorganized or poorly formatted CVs and those that contain obvious typos or other errors.”

What do you want?

The facts you choose to highlight and emphasize in your CV can provide clues about your ideal practice setting, career path and lifestyle. Tofts credits a family member for helping him understand the need for keeping his CV simple and highlighting the things important to him. He made sure that accomplishments of which he was most proud stood out loud and clear.

Peter Tofts MD

Keep your sentences short and direct. “Make the high points easy to see, and make sure your training and background are prominent and clear,” says Peter Tofts, M.D.

You have to present your work history and educational pathway in chronological order, of course, but you can emphasize the responsibilities and achievements you consider significant. If you bullet your accomplishments at a given position, start with the most important. You can use bold-faced or italicized typefaces judiciously for added emphasis. But be careful: If you emphasize everything, you’ll actually emphasize nothing.

Who is your audience?

Picture the recipient of your CV. What is he or she looking for in a physician? This requires some research on your part. The more you know about the job you’re applying for, the more accurately you will picture the employer’s ideal candidate.

“Tailor your message to your prospective employer,” Valancy advises his clients. “Do some Internet research. Ask your professional network about the organization. What type of organization is it: a large teaching hospital? A community hospital? A physician-staffing company or a physician-owned independent practice?”

“Does the organization have a mission? Who does it serve? Once you have an idea of what the organization is all about, use your CV to describe how you can help fulfill its mission and serve its community,” says Valancy.

Keep in mind that CVs can develop a life of their own. Recruiters and hiring organizations sometimes share CVs with each other after they’ve filled their own positions. That’s as good a reason as any to ensure your CV and cover letter are positive and truthful, without editorializing on less-than-desirable past employment experiences.

Setting things in order

Don’t get too creative when you sit down to format your CV. A quick Google Image search on “formatting a CV” will serve up several screens full of examples, many of which could land yours in the “weirdo” pile.

Stick to a format that looks professional, dignified and well within expected standards. Avoid creative touches of color or graphics, and don’t insert your photo—some organizations even cut photos from CVs to avoid discrimination accusations.

“Use clear, easy-to-read fonts,” says Valancy. Most experts advise sticking with standard fonts like Times New Roman or Arial, sized at 11 or 12 points. You can use slightly larger typefaces for headlines and subheadings. In fact, your name should appear at the top of your first page in a large font, centered with your title, and your primary contact information centered immediately beneath it.

It’s a good idea for your name, email and preferred phone number to appear on every page. Use your word processor’s header feature (or footer, if you prefer) to include this information throughout the document.

Most professional CVs use the first paragraph below your name and contact information to provide an introductory profile of the candidate. This short summary deserves more time and effort than you might think. In fact, it’s so important that you should consider getting help from an accomplished writer.

Your opening, says Valancy, concisely delivers your elevator speech: a crisp, clear description of who you are and what you want in as few words as possible. That requires some real writing skill, but it’s your chance to highlight your priorities and values from the outset. A powerful introduction leaves the reader wanting to know more about you.

Most CVs—like résumés—follow on with a chronological listing of the candidate’s education and work experience. Make absolutely sure that all your “from” and “to” dates appear with no unexplained gaps. If you’ve experienced any career interruption, don’t try to hide it or gloss over it. You don’t want a potential employer suspecting that you have something to hide.

Your timeline provides another opportunity to highlight what’s important to you. Include bullet lists of activities and accomplishments with appropriate entries. If, for example, you are seeking an academic appointment, list publications, research projects and experiences as an instructor while you participated in each program. (If you’ve been published more than a few times, you may want to list the individual articles in an appendix rather than clutter up your timeline with too much detail.)

Pengrin described her CV both before and after the PracticeLink makeover: “My revised CV was clearly better than my original one, which was more academic. The finished product is more employment oriented. It now focuses more on the skills I’ve developed and the particular areas of psychiatry I’ve been working in—and how that would be marketable to potential employers. It has less detail about all the various activities of my academic career. A future employer wants to see more about your recent work, what kind of system you’re used to dealing with—even what kind of EHR you’ve used.”

Wrapping it up with style

After the chronological section, most professionals add lists of publications, research projects, grants and similar professional accomplishments. It’s appropriate to include lists of awards and honors, as well as professional societies, academies and organizations in which you’ve held memberships. Be sure to include any leadership positions you’ve held as well.

Anyone with Internet access can easily figure out what an average CV should look like these days, so it can prove a little more challenging to make yours stand out in the crowd.

OCH’s Mike Andrews notes, “I almost never get a ‘trash’ CV anymore. New graduates have more resources and help to lean on, so the bar has been permanently raised.”

Pengrin learned to add punch to her CV by paying attention to details like writing style and sentence structure. Avoid passive voice and static statements (sentences with some form of “to be” as the main verb).

Keep your sentences short and direct. Tofts agrees: “Make the high points easy to see, and make sure your training and background are prominent and clear.”

After you’ve spent all that time and effort creating your masterpiece, don’t shortchange your cover letter. Granted, few CVs and résumés arrive at employers’ offices via snail mail; most applicants use email or upload their CVs to websites. Email cover letters tend to be terse acknowledgments (Attached please find my CV.) But there’s still a place for a well-written cover letter.

“Even though most job-search correspondence happens through email, a follow-up via first-class mail can make a positive impression,” Valancy observes.

Whether you decide to use paper or pixels, spend time honing your cover-letter message. When asked for advice about cover letters, Pengrin says, “Get professional help. Sometimes it’s hard for us physicians to admit when we need help, but it’s OK to admit we’re not experts in everything.”

Valancy offers several points to keep in mind for your cover letter:

  • Start by thanking the employer (or its representative) for the opportunity to learn about the job.
  • Summarize once again your training, skills and experience, as well as the type of position you seek.
  • Suggest possible dates for scheduling an interview.
  • State clearly when you will be available to start working.

Finally, when researching desirable jobs and organizations, dig deep enough to discover the right contact person for the position—and address them personally.

Avoid submitting CVs blindly to organizations advertising new positions. If possible, reach out by phone to the proper contact person and ask him or her to keep an eye out for your CV.

Taking those “next steps” like placing a preliminary phone call or mailing a carefully worded follow-up letter will make an impression. And anyone in advertising will tell you that top-of-mind consciousness can make all the difference in the world.

Timothy W. Boden, CMPE is an award-winning writer and a best-selling editor and ghostwriter.



Flexible Medicine

By Marcia Layton Turner | Feature Articles | Winter 2016


Shifting attitudes among physicians means work/life balance is becoming an even bigger career concern than income among new physicians. “There is a big emphasis on quality of life now,” says Lisa Freda, director of physician recruitment for Chen Medical and JenCare Neighborhood Medical Centers. “The whole climate is changing.”

Freda says location and scheduling flexibility trump all other considerations as health care employers compete for physician candidates.

“Organizations that can be flexible have an advantage,” she says.

Across the board, physicians are asking for flexibility. How they achieve it is unique to each situation and ranges from working with a potential employer to striking out on their own.

The options illustrate the wide variety of today’s practice choices. We spoke with a few physicians about how they approached their desire for flexibility, and to in-house recruiters about if and how to incorporate it into your next practice search.

Stepping out of insurance

Years ago, Doug Nunamaker, M.D., chief medical officer at AtlasMD in Wichita, saw that physicians were burning out because they spent too much time on insurance paperwork. He asked what he could change and came to the conclusion that patients needed to be responsible for their financial decisions.


Doug Nunamaker, M.D., was motivated to improve both patient care and the time he spent with family.

“We don’t purchase anything else the way we purchase health care,” says Nunamaker. He cites car insurance as an example: The owner pays for gas and vehicle upkeep, and insurance only comes into play when an accident or other event necessitates repairs. Nunamaker envisioned a similar system for medicine. He thought routine care should be cheap, and insurance should only cover catastrophic injuries or illness.

So Nunamaker introduced a membership-based system at his practice, where patients pay a monthly fee for unlimited access to the physician. There are no co-pays for appointments, and patients pay wholesale fees for lab work. The practice does not accept insurance, but Nunamaker sometimes works with insurance companies to help patients lower their premiums.

Whereas other practices often have 2,500 to 4,000 patients, the four physicians at Nunamaker’s practice take on no more than 600 patients. He usually works about 45 hours a week, instead of the typical 50 to 60, and sees five to six patients a day. As a result, he gets more time with his family.

But for Nunamaker, the new model isn’t just about reducing his workload. “It’s what you do in those hours that really matters,” he says. Because he has fewer patients, he can spend more time researching solutions. He finds that “patients don’t have to come back as often.” And when they do, he has time to spend 30 to 90 minutes with each.

“It’s not the money that’s a priority, but being both personally and professionally satisfied,” he says of his practice choice. “Improving patient care while improving my personal family time is a key motivator for this kind of medical practice.”

Building a concierge practice

Sarah Davis, M.D., of Park Cities Personal Physicians in Dallas, based her career decisions partly around spending time with her young children. After completing her residency in family practice at the University of Florida at Gainesville, Davis started working at a private practice. However, she felt unfulfilled because she didn’t get to spend enough quality time with patients.

Davis heard about concierge practices that limited their patient rosters and charged an annual fee for 24/7 physician access. That model appealed to her, so she set up her own concierge office.

Instead of seeing 40 patients a day, her practice serves only 100 in all. Some weeks, she has few patient appointments and can be out of the office as long as she can be available if needed.

Although patients have her cell phone number and email address, they try not to bother her during evenings and weekends unless there’s an urgent issue. “The nice thing is that I don’t have patients stacked up in the office,” says Davis. “The downside is that when a patient needs you, you drop everything to see them.”

The concierge model also appealed to Joseph T. Barry, M.D. In January 2015, Barry started offering concierge services at his practice in Camillus, New York. “I was looking for quality of life,” he says. His business partner continued to manage traditional operations, and this two-tiered model allowed clients to choose between traditional and concierge services.

Then the concierge network SignatureMD approached Barry about joining their network, and he opened his own concierge practice. He now benefits from their operational support.

Barry now works in the office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. four days a week and uses Wednesdays to see patients in nursing homes, hospitals or their own homes. Concierge patients pay $1,800 per month for access to Barry, who says that the nationwide average for monthly concierge payments is $1,500 to $5,000. Insurance does not cover any of that fee, although funds from a flexible spending account or Social Security can be applied.

By limiting his patients to 300, Barry can devote more energy to each. “I have time to think about patient problems,” he says. Those 300 patients get nearly unlimited access to him. Often, he can give them a same-day or next-day office visit and an immediate phone call. He finds this easy access appeals to professionals, who don’t have time to sit in a waiting room, and older patients, who want same-day appointments. At the practice, a secretary greets each of Barry’s patients by name and offers them fresh fruit.

He also makes himself available outside the office. Every other Tuesday, he walks with patients on the Erie Canal. He meets them at the local farmers’ market to talk about healthy eating and offers cooking classes to demonstrate vegetarian or Mediterranean cuisine. In addition, he keeps in touch with a monthly newsletter.

The change has also helped him balance his life. “When I’m done with work, I’m done,” he says. “It gives me a more regular schedule so that I can make time for jujitsu, racquetball and saxophone lessons.” Perhaps most importantly, he says, “I feel better about being a doctor.”

Piecing together a satisfying career

The search for schedule flexibility leads some physicians to trade a standard arrangement for a more creative one. After completing her residency at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, Cheryl Wu, M.D., opted to work a few part-time roles for maximum control of her time.

Cheryl Wu

Cheryl Wu, M.D., chose to piece together shifts to give her maximum control over her schedule.

Wu started as a locum tenens pediatrician in a federally funded clinic while moonlighting in a pediatric emergency room for a couple of years. When she became pregnant, she needed more stability, so she interviewed for hospitalist shift positions and took a locum tenens spot in Pennsylvania. She worked a 40-hour shift from Friday night to Sunday morning once a month during her pregnancy and her son’s infancy. “In terms of lifestyle, it worked,” she says.

As her son grew, Wu’s needs changed, too. She wanted a 9-to-5 job with a predictable schedule that would help her arrange childcare more easily. She joined a private practice for a few years, but still didn’t feel she had the control she needed over her schedule.

“I realized the most important thing for me was being able to work and take off when I wanted to,” she says. She also felt restricted because she could only take one of her four vacation weeks at a time. “I wanted to be able to travel, to see my family in Asia, which I couldn’t do in just one week of vacation.”

So Wu decided to leave the practice—and found a job that had everything she was looking for at 139 Medical PC, a thriving practice in Chinatown.

The practice offered per diem pay and malpractice insurance, and Wu only has to commit to two days a week and one Saturday a month. Best of all for her, she doesn’t have to work weekends or be on call.

Wu continues to moonlight in an emergency room two or three times a month in the evenings and on weekends. She can work more days when she wants to, but says there’s no pressure to do so. She earns nearly the equivalent of a full-time salary by piecing together shifts that are convenient for her.

Looking back, Wu remembers she and her medical school and residency colleagues talked more about careers than work/life balance. Occasionally, they discussed how certain medical specialties like anesthesiology and radiology offered more desirable lifestyles, but it wasn’t a top focus until she finished her residency. She says: “Lifestyle becomes a much bigger deal once you’re done.”



Physicians and their passions

Hobbies provide a valuable work/life balance no matter your level of expertise. But these physicians take it to a new level, balancing clinical careers with high performance in the activities they love.

By Marcia Travelstead | Feature Articles | Winter 2016


Making time for extracurricular pursuits can be difficult for any adult—and given their demanding schedules, physicians find it especially hard. But balancing a successful medical career with other activities isn’t impossible. In fact, many physicians devote their off hours to hobbies and side businesses. We spoke with four of them to learn their secrets of maintaining a healthy work/life balance.

Myles Stone, M.D., MPH: Craft beer brewer ·
Myles Stone

After trying out some brewing equipment, Myles Stone, M.D., MPH, and a friend decided to take their hobby to a new level—and opened Borderlands Brewing Co. in Tucson.

Myles Stone, M.D., MPH, got his start in craft beer thanks to a professor who gave him more than medical expertise. The professor and his wife owned brewing equipment they weren’t using, so they gave it to Stone, a family medicine physician at The University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson.

Stone tested the equipment with a close friend, a University of Arizona researcher who has a Ph.D. in microbiology. The project wasn’t completely foreign—Stone’s friend once worked for Anheuser-Busch, and as a child, Stone learned about business and accounting at his family’s bicycle shop.

After a few trial batches, they combined their brewery and business experience, gathered their funds and opened Borderlands Brewing Co. in an early-1900s building in the Tucson Warehouse Arts District. Together, Stone and his business partner balance their professional careers with running the brewery.

Julia Nordgren, M.D.: Chef ·

Julia Nordgren, M.D., a pediatrician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Palo Alto, California, has always loved food. So when she saw how her patients’ food choices affected their diseases, she recognized an opportunity to combine her passion with her profession. Nordgren, who graduated from Dartmouth Medical School and completed her pediatrics residency at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, also attended the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, California, and graduated in 2013 with honors.

Julia Nordgren

Julia Nordgren, M.D., combined her passion and her profession—and now uses her skills to educate patients about the intersection between food and health.

At the Institute, Nordgren not only mastered the art of fixing a perfect roast, but also learned how to teach cooking. As a pediatrician, she uses that training to educate patients about food. She offers personal health and culinary consultations, lectures, wellness seminars, cooking demonstrations and individual counseling sessions.

Nordgren is writing a cookbook, and she worked behind the scenes as a sous chef for WGBH’s (Boston) cooking show, “Moveable Feast with Fine Cooking.”

Paul Paulman, M.D.: Model rocketeer

Family medicine physician Paul Paulman, M.D., flew Estes model rockets when he was growing up. Now the assistant dean for clinical skills and quality at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, he still flies rockets in his spare time and sees science as the common thread between medicine and rocketry.

But rockets are no longer child’s play for him. Paulman completed a three-level certification to fly high-powered rockets. He uses the same explosives as space shuttles do, and he’s certified to launch them as high as 20,000 feet!

For more information on rocketry, visit The Heartland Organization of Rocketry and the Tripoli Rocketry Association.

Christopher Shih, M.D., FACG: Concert pianist

Christopher Shih, M.D., graduated cum laude from Harvard University and earned his medical degree at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He completed his internal medicine residency training at the University of Pennsylvania and his gastroenterology fellowship at Johns Hopkins.

After Shih performed with the National Symphony on the Capitol Lawn, a Washington Post writer declared, “If Shih is as gifted in medicine as he is in music, he has some serious career decisions to make.”

But Shih didn’t have to choose between the two. Even as a gastroenterologist at Regional Gastroenterology Associates of Lancaster in Pennsylvania, Shih continues to perform in major venues in the U.S. and abroad. He has played in over a dozen countries and on television and radio programs, including NPR’s All Things Considered, Radio France, Canada CBC, Taiwan CTV and more.

Achieving a work/life balance

Having a hobby about which to be passionate is important for most people. However, many of us simply don’t have the time it takes to perfect a passion. With a family, friends and everyday life—not to mention a rigorous schedule—it becomes a challenge.

So how do they do it? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but these physicians say a few things help: finding supporters, being flexible with your schedule, and truly enjoying your additional pursuits.

Supportive family and community

All four physicians say having supportive family and friends is essential. “It’s important to get your spouse on your side so they support your hobby,” Paulman advises—then jokingly adds, “Or at least tolerate it.”

Nordgren agrees that support at home is key. “I have a supportive partner, or I couldn’t have been separated from my family for nine months to attend culinary school on the other side of the country.”

Her husband is also a physician, and Nordgren says it’s helpful that he understands the pressures of a medical career. “That’s what I think is nice about having a duo-physician family,” she says. “We truly understand each other’s careers are important to us and what we do is meaningful.”

Shih also has a family that shares his passion. His wife is a professional violinist, and all of his children play musical instruments. “For my family, music is always in our lives in a variety of ways,” he says. “It’s who we are.”

But Shih stresses that physicians who pursue personal passions need to prioritize their families as well as their other pursuits. He limits the time he spends on his hobby so that he also has time for his family.

“I only perform in three or four concerts a year and only accept the concerts that I would only need no more than one or two hours a day of practice,” Shih says. “When I get home from work, I spend time with the family, have dinner, do chores, do homework with the kids and then spend time with my wife.”

Physicians also need supportive friends. Stone says finding trustworthy partners is essential. “Work with good people. I just can’t stress that enough,” he says, adding, “It simply would not work in any other format. I have an absolutely perfect business partner. We employed a staff that we can trust our business with every day of the week when we can’t be there.”

Similarly, Paulman suggests finding a good community. “Connect with people who have similar mindsets,” he advises. “Reach out and get the support going that you need. For example, if you are interested in rockets, there are rocket clubs in every part of the country. …You can connect with one of the members of a club and give it a try.”

Flexible schedule

Several of the physicians we interviewed said freedom in their work schedules also helps them pursue their passions. For example, Paulman likes to schedule work around his launches. “I try to avoid clinical responsibility when doing a launch,” he says. “It’s only one day a month on a Saturday.”

Nordgren says it’s easier to make time for cooking at this point in her career. “I have a lot more control over my career, so I can schedule my workshops to be away from home for a few days. However, the following three days, I can arrange to be home with my family.”

A flexible schedule helps, but it’s possible to work around a rigid one. Last year as an intern, Stone worked 16-hour days with four days off a month. He had to spend almost all of his free time at the brewery.

“Last year, I thought I bit off more than I could chew!” he says. “Now, coming into the second year, it’s a lot calmer, and the brewery can grow, and we can hire more staff.”

Shih, who also maintains a fairly strict schedule, says making time for his hobby is a matter of setting priorities. “I hear people say they don’t have time for things. It’s not that they don’t have time. They aren’t making it a priority.” He says: “I think you can do about anything you want to do as long as you have the passion and desire.”

Having fun

To turn a humble hobby into something more, these physicians say it’s essential to love your passion deeply.

“If it wasn’t fun, it wouldn’t work,” Stone says. “The fact that I worked 16 hours at the hospital and headed over to the brewery to do something I wanted to do was absolutely critical.”

While growing up, Shih never thought he would make a career out of music. In fact, he quit playing early in his medical career. His love for music drove him back to it. “If it’s something you are passionate about, it certainly can be done,” he says.

Paulman says building and launching rockets has improved his quality of life. “It gives me something to look forward to, something to enjoy,” he says. “There’s always a problem to solve or a situation to explore. There are aspects of the hobby that are fun to look at. There’s always a next level. It’s similar to golf in that you hit a good shot, and it keeps you coming back!”

Nordgren is adamant about her passion for cooking. “It lights me up!” she says. “I love to go to food conferences and get to speak with people who love it as much as I do. …Whatever your passion—food, music, writing, etc.—having these shared experiences about things you love and are passionate about, that’s what makes life great.”

Fringe benefits

If you can find time for them, extracurricular pursuits are incredibly rewarding. They can enrich not only your life but also your career.

What do you like to do

What do you like to do?

What physicians do in their free time varies by all the typical limiting factors: career stage, life stage, demands from family and career. Travel, exercise and reading top the list though of favorite pastimes—though number one is spending time with family. Family time, though, is not a given for all—the percent of physicians who chose it as their favorite activity dropped 8 percentage points from 2013.

Source: Peckham, C. Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report 2015. Medscape. Published Jan 26, 2015. Available here.

For example, Stone credits the brewery with making him a better physician. “There is no doubt that these skills have enhanced my quality of life,” he says. “The brewery has provided me with an incredible amount of opportunities to develop a different skill set than what I learned in medical school. Problem solving, interpersonal relationships and financial analysis are important. There is no doubt that these skills have enhanced my quality of life. If nothing else, it has given me a far deeper appreciation for the intricacies and economics of running a health care organization. Of course, there are plenty nights when I came home from the hospital and analyzing spreadsheets didn’t sound anywhere as appealing as going to bed. However, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I have learned so much and have had a wealth of experiences over the last few years.”

Nordgren has also found that her hobby makes her a better physician. She’s able to provide her patients with better care and suggest diet changes, but she says her hobby would still strengthen her even if it didn’t have such a direct benefit.

“For me, there’s a very specific connection between my hobby and what I do as a professional,” she says. “That’s not always the case. However, I would say don’t ignore your hobby. It makes you a better person in everything you do.”

Making time for extra pursuits is a lot of work. But all the physicians we interviewed agree: It’s worth the effort.

Marcia Travelstead is a frequent contributor to PracticeLink Magazine.



Secrets of the happiest specialties

A recipe for contentment from physicians in the field.

By Chris Hinz | Feature Articles | Winter 2016


Orthopedic surgeon Chad Krueger, M.D., loves the technical challenge of fixing broken bones. Restoring someone’s function and motion is very hands-on and concrete.

His greatest satisfaction, though, comes from his patient population at the Fort Bragg (North Carolina) Womack Army Medical Center—men and women who’ve suffered mangled extremities and other devastating injuries from military conflict. Even though they require extensive services to optimize their potential and rebuild their lives, Krueger revels in their progress. He sees inspiration in every soldier who once only hoped to walk his daughter down the aisle but can now share picture proof that he finally did. Ditto for the patient who’s strolling with her spouse or holding her child for the first time in a long a time.

“Knowing that you’ve impacted someone’s life so positively is pretty powerful,” says Krueger. “It’s hard to put into words the happiness you experience when someone tells you, ‘I was able to do this because of everything you did for me—thank you!’”

Chad Krueger MD


“…You’re working with many other people to get the best outcomes for these patients. When things align, I feel very good,” says orthopedic surgeon Chad Krueger, M.D.



In the pecking order of professions, you can’t get much better than medicine for feel-good moments. In fact, even if you’re fairly new to your job, you’ve likely had a few gratified patients make your day. But are ringing endorsements enough to ensure happiness as a physician? Chances are no, as other factors can toy with your emotions and impact your work and life styles.

Even your specialty can make a difference, at least according to one survey. When Medscape asked users about happiness in Physician Lifestyle Report 2014: Do Physicians Lead Healthy Lives? certain specialties rose to the top five.

In terms of work, dermatologists, allergists/immunologists, ophthalmologists, pathologists and psychiatrists scored the highest happiness responses. The deck was shuffled a bit for home life with ophthalmologists and dermatologists still rising on the contentment scale, but accompanied closely by urologists, orthopedic surgeons and emergency medicine physicians.

So what are the secrets to these so-called happiest specialties? A PracticeLink follow-up with physicians in several of the disciplines reveal a spate of common denominators enriching their experience: a sense of fulfillment, great workplace dynamics, good opportunities for growth and room for an active life outside the office. As a job-seeking physician, you may be targeting the perfect match for your skills and ambitions. Yet focusing on factors that have impacted others—whether or not they share your specialty—could be significant to your long-term success. Chief among them is a seemingly basic key in keeping spirits aloft in any field: “I think happiness really boils down to the core matters of being optimistic and doing what you love,” says Maryann Mercer, Ph.D., co-author of the book Spontaneous Optimism: Proven Strategies for Health, Prosperity and Happiness. “It’s not so much about the profession you’re in as it is about the choices you make. If you’re following your heart or the vision you have for your life, you’re likely going to be happy.”

Identifying meaning

The idea that following one’s heart leads to happiness is more than a philosophical ideal. Scientists have produced a bevy of studies quantifying why some people are working and living fulfilled while others don’t have the same internal GPS. They’re bringing into focus a once-fuzzy picture as to how individuals internalize and respond to the world.

Experts like Mercer, for instance, look to optimism as the force that drives an upbeat attitude. Because perennially cheerful individuals tend to have more positive thoughts and emotions than those unhappy blokes who like wallowing in the negative attitudes that make them persistently pessimistic, they’re also able to form a meaningful vision for their lives along with a can-do attitude about meeting its challenges.

Mercer is not alone in noting the role of purpose. Scientists exploring positive psychology, a branch of the mental health field that’s shining a rigorous research light on well-being or the virtues and strengths of living more fulfilling lives, say the roots of happiness are indeed multidimensional. They include three basic components: meaning or serving a cause bigger than yourself; engagement or being so absorbed by the daily activities that you enjoy that you lose track of time and yourself; and pleasure or relishing the everyday plusses of life.

Although people with high levels of all three seem to be most satisfied, according to positive psychology’s leading gurus, some components have more staying power than others. For instance, good times can definitely add balance to an otherwise hectic life, but the afterglow is typically short-lived. That leaves meaning and engagement working in tandem to provide the linchpin for an abundantly gratifying life. Whether you identify strongest with faith, family or your professional mission, you’re bringing to bear your highest potential and best self. Whether you’re performing a challenging procedure or playing a riveting musical piece, you’re so fixated that you get lost in the “flow” of the experience. A life woven with many “flow” activities is a life of great satisfaction.

In terms of his own happiness, Landon Trost, M.D., a urology subspecialist in male infertility and andrology at Rochester, Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic, puts stock in the deep pillars of his life. He ranks religious beliefs and family as the top two items that give his days meaning, with job satisfaction a not-too-distant third and an active lifestyle a distant fourth. As someone who experienced his own medical scare several years ago and chronicled the journey, Trost says his enthusiasm for life never diminished. That’s in large part because he views happiness as reaching for and achieving the aspirations and guiding principles one sets for oneself. “Happiness is living your life in a manner consistent with your ideal expectations and goals,” he says. “If you fall short of them, you’re going to be unhappy. But if you achieve them, you’ll have a renewed sense of choice and control about your life.”

Physicians who’ve managed to forge such a life are indeed finding meaning and engagement in the roles they’ve pursued. They love what they do because they’re well matched to the interactions and tasks making up their day. Whether that means taking care of patients over the long term or intervening for an acute health event, it’s how they envisioned practicing medicine. What’s more, they’re still jazzed about making a difference.

Jonathan Jones M.D., for instance, loves the fact that as program director and associate professor of emergency medicine at The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, he sees patients in their time of need. Whatever the outcome, he delights in the hands-on part of his job—relying on his stethoscope, a patient’s history and physical exam to discover what’s really going on, particularly in someone whose chief complaint is “I just don’t feel good.”

“People often make fun of our specialty, saying that we don’t actually fix a lot, we just diagnose someone and then call in a specialist.” Jones says. “Sometimes that’s absolutely true. But diagnosing is what medicine is all about. Whether I eventually fix the patient or refer to a colleague, solving the enigma is what really gets my brain going.”

By splitting time between Columbus-based The Ohio State University’s James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, where she’s director of the Pigmented Lesion Clinic, and her nearby general dermatology practice, Shannon C. Trotter, D.O., says she has the best of both professional worlds. By merging academic medicine and patient care, she’s able to tap many aspects of her personality, including her ability to roll with the punches or lead the charge. In either case, Trotter relishes the direct, sometimes dramatic, impact she can have on patients. “I think patients truly appreciate what we do for them because the skin has such an impact on one’s outward appearance and self-esteem,” she says. “I often kid my primary care friends that if they lower someone’s blood pressure, that patient doesn’t necessarily care. If I clear up someone’s acne or psoriasis, I’m their new best friend.”

And even though she doesn’t always work directly with them, Heather Signorelli, D.O., clinical pathologist for UniPath in Denver, gets the same joy from helping her patients. Whether it’s through a consultation or multidisciplinary conference, she’s helping colleagues make effective choices for people she’s never even met. “One of my favorite things about pathology is that we’re heavily involved in how clinicians work up and treat patients,” she says. “We have a great opportunity to help them select and interpret the right tests so that we deliver the best patient care as early as possible.”

Navigating the workplace

A workplace culture that mirrors your philosophy of medicine and arms you with the tools to do what you want to do can be critical in putting a purpose-driven life into action. True happiness may have little to do with the ebbs and flows of the workplace or workday—and more to do with one’s general state of mind—but joining a supportive, collegial organization certainly can make a perceptible difference.

That’s not to say that health care’s growing bureaucracy doesn’t ever intrude on one’s ability to make prudent choices, call the right shots or even relate like they want to relate. But physicians content with their situations don’t allow such changes to spoil their excitement for medicine or their specialty. In fact, they’ve learned that the key to being happily successful is not to internalize every obstacle they encounter. Instead, they stay focused on the needs of their patients, even as they navigate interferences. More importantly, they work with administrators who have lessened the barriers to delivering quality care and encouraged them to be decision-makers.

“One of the critical things for physicians is to find that spot, whether it’s in private practice, a hospital or another setting, where their voices will be heard and their input sought in making decisions for the community they serve,” says Christopher R. Scott, FASPR, assistant administrator-orthopedics for Durango, Colorado-based Mercy Orthopedic Associates.

Jones is able to do what he’s trained to do because other factors make it relatively easy. He has the wherewithal to make an accurate diagnosis, order a treatment or even call in additional help because of the complement of specialists and technological bells and whistles available throughout his institution. He also doesn’t worry about insurance or other administrative tasks tying his hands because other people take that on. “I’m not naïve,” he says. “I know that people have to pay their bills and hospitals have to collect money. But it doesn’t matter if someone is rich or poor. I’m there to take care of them in their time of need. I’m there to ask, ‘Where do you hurt?’”

Krueger has learned not to focus on what he can’t control and instead prioritize those things that he can. Because his patients often have multiple health issues, that means finding meaningful ways to collaborate with other departments. “It’s very easy to become myopic in the sense that you only focus on what would be perfect for you,” he says. “But you have to understand that you’re working with many other people to get the best outcomes for these patients. When things align, I feel very good.”

Growing in the job

Although there are many ways to be fulfilled as a physician, advancing your training and other passions not only can round out your career, but also contribute to a great workplace experience. Opportunities to grow in the job are especially relevant in medicine, given studies repeatedly demonstrating that highly skilled individuals who are highly challenged are much happier and energized in their jobs than highly skilled individuals who aren’t performing at maximum capacity.

Whether you pursue research, write journal articles, train residents and fellows, participate in specialty societies or advance your training, you’re doing what researchers believe is important for staying upbeat: performing at peak potential.

At Bennington’s Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, administrators offer an annual medical leadership course to give doctors a jumpstart if they’re interested in being at the helm of a physician-run practice. With health care moving increasingly toward a physician-in-charge model, they want their Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putman Medical Group providers to be ready when the opportunities are ripe. “The preparation not only is making our doctors better leaders,” says Nicole Goswami, physician liaison and recruiter, “but I think we’re also helping them realize how they can make a difference within the organization.”

As health care changes in both exciting and onerous ways, Signorelli sees a great opening for physicians to stretch and grow, no matter their specialty. Whether it’s making sense of regulatory changes or adding administrative tasks, the experience can be gratifying, particularly if the outcome positively impacts an entire health care system. For instance, the information technology explosion has affected all of medicine, but it’s been particularly beneficial in pathology where better algorithms—in addition to other technologies—are enabling more sensitive laboratory tests. Because pathologists can now identify certain tumor mutations, for instance, they’re able to assist clinicians in personalizing therapy. Such advances are not only helping physicians help their patients, but are also stimulating pathologists by the evolution of their field. “One of the most exciting things about pathology,” says Signorelli, “is that it’s developing at such a rapid pace. We’re constantly learning. It’s exhilarating.”

Making room for life

Integrating your professional and personal time so that the former doesn’t overshadow the latter is indeed a key element in staying emotionally healthy. But it’s no small achievement for physicians, given that no matter where they are or what they’re doing, they’re always physicians, with everything that entails.

Not surprisingly, it can be difficult to separate the physician from the person enough to enjoy the other parts of the day. But establishing a life outside your practice is critical for long-term sustainability.

“Balance is extremely important to one’s happiness,” says Whitney Paige Barnett, physician recruiter for Mon Health System in Morgantown, West Virginia. “The job and organization should hold value and a prominent place in a physician’s life, but they shouldn’t be the physician’s life.”

So how do you create a comfortable merger? “I think happiness starts by being honest with what you want in both your personal and professional lives,” Scott says. “If you want to be the busiest physician you can be, then you need to go somewhere where that can happen. But if it’s about having balance, you need to take that into consideration. You do yourself a great disservice if you don’t have that honest conversation.”

Beyond that initial talk, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for taking care of yourself since what you do is based on preferences and priorities. But physicians who believe they’ve achieved a rich balance are persistent in pursuing the things that give their lives dimension. Faith, family, friends and interests have helped them remain healthy, energized and happily centered.

Moreover, they’ve found ways to deal with the day-to-day reality that a case might not go perfectly for all of their hard work and commitment. They don’t fool themselves into thinking that everything will be right all of the time. Instead, they’re prepared for inevitable ups and downs so those intrusions don’t necessarily interfere with home life.

“You’re going to have good days and bad days,” says Jones. “But you can still have a positive experience if you say, ‘How can I approach this situation to make something good out of it?’” Jones says it has taken time to fully realize that he can have a very positive impact even in the absence of a good medical outcome. Yet switching gears to help those he can still help also improves his outlook immeasurably. “I think sometimes you have to redefine how you can make a difference,” Jones says. “Maybe I can’t save the patient, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make a difference for the patient’s family.”

The fact that Signorelli’s husband isn’t in medicine definitely provides a buffer between her professional and personal time. When she comes home, they focus on their children and other compelling non-medical topics. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t intrusions, however. She still gets messages after office hours and sometimes finds it hard to stop thinking about a difficult case or what didn’t go well that day. For the most part, however, Signorelli makes a conscientious effort to block off time for herself, her family and friends. “It’s so easy to get wrapped up in work because it’s never-ending,” she says. “But you have to remember that you’re only human. It’s really important to have time when you’re not thinking about your practice, when you’ve shut off that connection. There’s great satisfaction in being able to say, ‘I did a great job today. I’m happy with the way things went. Now I can go home and focus on my family.”

Heather Signorelli, D.O.


Being able to focus at home or work—wherever you happen to be—is an important part of the quality of life for pathologist Heather Signorelli, D.O. “There’s great satisfaction in being able to say, ‘I did a great job today. I’m happy with the way things went. Now I can go home and focus on my family.”



If there are secrets to the happiest specialists, it’s that the factors keeping them happy aren’t so secret after all. Physicians who navigate the everyday challenges of work and life with a positive spirit are performing meaningful work that engages them both intellectually and emotionally, regardless of their medical niche. They’ve found supportive environments where they can work to their maximum potential and grow. At the same time, they try to have balance in their lives.

That’s not to say that other factors aren’t at play; scientists have made serious inroads concerning the nuances of happiness with more findings likely in the works. Yet for many physicians, feeling good still comes down to knowing at the end of the day that they’ve contributed when someone needed them the most. Krueger, for instance, is excited to get to work because he simply loves performing surgery. But the bigger joy comes in seeing those men and women who’ve transitioned successfully through surgery and months of rehab. “When they come into the clinic and smile,” he says, “it’s pretty powerful stuff.”



The do’s & don’ts of your next interview

A successful interview is one step to landing your dream practice. Do the wrong thing, and you can hurt your chances.

By Vicki Gerson | Feature Articles | Summer 2015


Michael Atha MD

In his search for new colleagues, Michael Atha, M.D., reviews CVs from 25 to 30 candidates who have already been screened by an in-house recruiter. About 15 to 20 of those get a phone interview, and fewer still are extended a site visit.

True story: While arranging an interview for a physician, a recruiter asked the candidate if she’d be bringing anyone to the interview.

“Would you mind if I bring my little dog?” the candidate asked. “She is well-behaved and can sit in my lap.” The recruiter—surprised by the request—told the candidate that the dog couldn’t attend due to health reasons at the facility. Although the physician interviewed well—without her dog—she wasn’t hired for the job.

If you are now or soon will be looking for a new practice, there are certain behaviors that could prevent you from getting hired (leave your dog at home), and others that can make you stand out as a good fit. We’ll cover interview do’s and don’ts here to help you land your dream practice.

Do be sensitive to your environment

A candidate from the big city hoped to make the transition to a quiet, rural life in cowboy country. He arrived to the interview in a fancy suit and even fancier car, and was critical of the cowboy boots and pickup trucks he saw. His recruiters had to take him aside and give him this advice: People will accept outsiders—if you’re not critical of their lifestyle.

Consider that experience as one reason that face-to-face interviews are so important. Bruce M. Guyant, DASPR, regional director of physician recruiting at LifePoint Hospitals for Colorado, Utah and Nevada, says site visits are a great way for recruiters and candidates (and their families) to evaluate if the job and community fit is right in practice, not just on paper. The last thing an employer wants is for a physician or spouse to be unhappy and request to leave shortly after being hired.

William J. Salyers, Jr., M.D., MPH, interviews residents and faculty candidates at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Wichita, where he is chief of the gastroenterology division and program director for the internal medicine residency program.

“You must fit the culture of our practice and the culture of our community,” he says. “I don’t want them looking for a new job in 18 months.” To help gauge fit, Salyers spends an entire day with candidates, including lunch and dinner.

Do your soul-searching before you go on an interview

Being confident in who you are and the direction you’d like to see your practice grow is also important.

Jake Deutsch

Jake Deutsch, M.D., suggests researching the practice before your interview so you know what questions to ask. With enough preparation, your real personality will be able to shine through.

“A candidate should come into the interview with a sense of direction as to where they want their career to go,” Salyers says. “If the person is searching and deciding what they still want, it’s difficult to know if that person will be a good fit or not. I don’t want to bring someone out to meet with us if this is the situation, because it would be difficult for them to fit in.”

Don’t make it all about you

Steve Elliott, practice manager at Ponderosa Family Physicians in Aurora, Colorado, says the best candidates are able to communicate what they are able to bring to the table and how their skills might enhance the practice. They are focused on the practice as a whole, not just what it’s able to offer them.

“Do they have an interest in understanding the long-term benefits of joining our practice, or are they only focused on the short-term benefits of first-year salary or first-year schedule?” he asks. “Do they have an appreciation for that opportunity and how they might contribute or fit in long-term? Are they focused on ‘I,’ or is there some genuine ‘we’ in there too?”

Michael Atha, M.D., is a hospitalist with Critical Care and Pulmonary Consultants, which provides hospitalists to Denver-area facilities. He hires five physicians in a typical year—but the group is expanding to cover a fourth hospital, so there will be 10 new doctors joining the practice this year.

To fill an opportunity, Atha examines CVs from 25 to 30 candidates who have already been screened by an in-house recruiter. He will speak with 15 to 20 candidates on the phone to pre-qualify them for in-person interviews. Often, he hears answers that don’t get them the in-person interview—such as answers to the question, “Why do you want to join his group?” Common no-go answers include, “I want to live in Denver,” “I like the great outdoors, so I want to work here,” and “I love to ski, so I’d love to work at your facility.” Atha expects to hear more than location as a reason for interest in joining the group. He’s impressed when a candidate has done some research on his group and about different practice models in Denver. He likes to hear that the candidate has taken the initiative to speak with other physicians in the area and learn that his group comes highly recommended.

Jake Deutsch, M.D., is the founder and clinical director of Cure Urgent Care in New York City.

He says it’s important to be prepared and know everything about the practice where you are interviewing. Know who the partners are, and come to the interview ready to ask basic questions about the company. Show your real personality so employers know what it would be like to work with you on a day-to-day basis and can determine your fit for the group.

Don’t limit yourself before learning all the details

In a typical year, Matthew Hess, human resources manager for
Northwestern Memorial HealthCare in Chicago, completes face-to-face interviews with 40 physician candidates to fill 15 opportunities. Before he gets to the interview point, however, he sorts through hundreds of CVs.

One mistake Hess notices candidates make is when they articulate expected work hours that don’t line up with the facility’s needs. For example, there’s not much flexibility for a candidate who wants to work only eight hours at a time when all the immediate care clinics are 12-hour shifts. An emergency room physician who doesn’t expect to work weekends or holidays? Likely not a right fit for his facility either.

The biggest interview mistake Deutsch encounters when hiring candidates is that many don’t inquire about clinical hours or partnership tracts.

“Hours spent working on call will be one of the biggest factors in job satisfaction,” he says. “Be clear what the requirements are, and speak with other physicians in the practice to get the real story. In addition, if there is an opportunity to become an owner in the practice, get the specifics before signing on the dotted line.”

Do be concerned with first impressions

Younger physicians hail from a generation well-known to be more casual than its predecessors. But when it comes to your interview, err on the side of formal, conservative dress. Don’t be like the candidate who showed up to an interview in a short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and sandals, causing the hospital CEO to stop the interview and refuse to proceed.

Elliott says candidates need to be personable, pleasant and comfortable in their own skin. They need to pay attention to how they interact with every person in the office, both in person and on the phone. “We also pay attention to other interactions such as how respectful they may be to a waiter at a restaurant or other miscellaneous interactions,” he says. “We want to get a good feel for how they are going to interact with our team of physicians, our staff, our medial community and our patients.”

Do get granular

When Elliott is interviewing a physician candidate, he says it’s important for him to know how new physicians are equipped to handle the real-world pace of practice.

That means it’s up to you, the candidate, to communicate your experiences with patient volume, call volume and reviewing lab results and other documents. Share examples of how you kept pace in residency and maintained a positive attitude.

During the in-person interview, Hess also wants candidates to get specific. You may say that you saw six patients every day, but Hess wants to know more. What type of patients? What were the diagnoses? And if you’re hired, what do you want to specialize in at the hospital? “Most of them are not prepared for these questions,” he says.

Do get all your questions answered

Throughout the interview process, go into every step intending to get an offer. Get all your questions answered during the interview process, and don’t pass full judgment on the opportunity until all the facts are gathered.

Your goal should be to gather enough information to determine if you would be a good fit for both the practice and the community. Once you’ve collected all the facts, then you can make your evaluation. Not a fit? That’s OK—as long as you professionally inform the practice of your decision.

If it is a fit, make an effort to review the details of your offer and contract so that you completely understand what will be expected in your new role.

“Many doctors don’t understand the terms of the contract until it’s too late,” says Hess. “Even though the contract is spelled out for them, and we go over every detail, many of them still don’t understand this is an employment contract. They are just excited to be getting a job.”

Don’t ramble

Being concise in your answers shows knowledge and focus.

“No one wants to hire someone who is going to give you the run-around whenever you have to communicate with them,” Deutsch says. That goes for when it comes to communicating both positive and negative outcomes.

Some candidates avoid talking about bad outcomes—all the more reason to have already thought about a concise explanation. “Don’t make yourself look incompetent because you are squirming when the difficult subject is breached,” Deutsch says.

It’s also important to know the job description. When a candidate shares career goals that aren’t in tune with the opportunity, it can give the impression that the candidate is looking for a short-term position, not a long-term career.

Do be gracious even if you’re not interested

It’s important to establish a good relationship with the group that interviewed you—even if you’re not interested in the job. If you decide to take another offer, you may be asked to provide feedback on what factors you liked or didn’t like about the offer or opportunity. Do it professionally. “Don’t burn any bridges,” Atha says. “We’ve seen candidates we’ve interviewed several years ago who come back to us later at a different point in their life.”

Vicki Gerson is a frequent contributor to PracticeLink Magazine.



Culture check

How to determine an organization’s culture—and how you will or won’t fit in.

By Teresa Odle | Feature Articles | Summer 2015


Internist Rebecca S. Lee, M.D., medical director of North Shore Physicians Group in Danvers, Massachusetts, has practiced primary care in her hometown for eight years. “I am kind of born and raised where I practice, which I really love and which is part of our culture,” she says. This is not to say that every physician at North Shore Physician Group’s Danvers location also was born and raised in the area. “But it is more of a community feel,” she says.

Dr Lee

“We try to make decisions based on finances and hours and such, but I think you also need to go a little bit with your gut,” says internist Rebecca Lee, M.D., about finding a place where you’ll fit in.”

Reaching that community feel in Lee’s practice didn’t happen overnight or even organically. It took effort. Lee helped open the new practice near her home and had a say in everyone hired, from physicians to front-end staff.

Across the country, in northern Arizona, internist Derek Feuquay, M.D., also has worked hard with his group, Flagstaff Medical Center Hospitalists, and Flagstaff Medical Center administration to create an excellent culture in the group practice and hospital.

According to Feuquay: “We have created an employed practice where people just don’t show up and work together; they are friends, colleagues and teammates.” Feuquay and his wife both joined the group about six years ago, and he became the lead physician in 2011.

When successful teams are formed, it’s because the hiring parties were able to look beyond training, certifications and clinical skills and to something more ethereal: “fit.” So how does a physician seeking a new opportunity evaluate their fit? And just why is the organization’s culture so important?

What is culture?

Of course, culture has dual meanings in health care today. Cultural competence is all about understanding the body of knowledge and beliefs or the backgrounds with which patients identify because patients’ values and customs can influence their belief systems regarding health.

The same holds true for culture within a health system, hospital or group practice. Many of the beliefs and values are intangible—or at least difficult to pinpoint and measure. Louis Caligiuri, director of physician contracting and recruiting for North Shore Medical Center in Boston, which is affiliated with North Shore Physicians Group and the larger Partners Healthcare Network to which both belong, says that communication is a big part of the North Shore culture. “The lines of communication are open, and we try to be a physician-led organization.”

Much of that can’t be measured, but Lee points out that she receives notification whenever one of her patients is seen in a Partners facility. That’s something an incoming primary care physician might want to know.

Other examples of culture include the mission, vision and values of an organization. Some of these are formal and published, driving how everyone from the medical director to the billing staff conduct business.

“The culture of our organization is one that supports professionalism,” says Jonathon K. Foley, M.D., FACS, president of Cape Girardeau Surgical Clinic in Missouri. Foley, a general surgeon, says that the group focuses on “getting the right people, the most efficient processes, and the best technology to support the work of the organization.”

Not every practice or hospital has formalized their culture. Other times, the leadership believes they have a particular culture, but word may not have gotten to the rank and file physicians or staff. Those that are most successful at having and sticking with positive cultures have identified and are driven by core values.

For Cape Girardeau Surgical Clinic, getting to the point they now are at grew from intentional behavior and actions, says clinic administrator Sarah Holt, PhD, FACMPE. “Years ago, we discussed as a group the kind of practice we wanted to become.” Included in the group’s culture is a focus on applying formalized governance in “a fair and systematic manner,” says Holt, along with valuing individuals and the group as a whole. In addition, Holt says, “We hire the best people we can find.”

Kevin Bartow MD

Kevin Bartow, M.D., is the newest physician partner at Cape Girardeau Surgical Clinic. He suggests that candidates ask all their questions while they’re interviewing, including how work is distributed.

Why is culture important to job seekers?

Although physicians seeking new opportunities have much to consider and weigh, many recognize the significance of cultural fit when evaluating an organization. According to Caligiuri, some of the physicians he interviews mention that the organization’s culture is an important factor. “Some are explicit about it,” he says.

And although physicians often are prepared to evaluate compensation or benefit packages, they might not realize the effects an organization’s culture has on the bottom line or physician benefits. “Culture drives satisfaction or dissatisfaction with compensation, call, salary and benefits,” says Holt. She adds that culture also contributes to satisfaction with one’s colleagues—an important factor in a specialty such as surgery, where respect and collaboration are key. If not present in the culture, “problems develop, fester and finally erupt,” says Holt.

Foley agrees. “The work we do is too stressful to spend energy fighting the organization,” he says, adding that the organization “needs to support the work of the physicians and staff so that we can accomplish meaningful work.”

For those who vet, interview or hire new physicians, it’s crucial to make sure that the culture is a fit for both the new physician and for the organization. Caligiuri uses the hospitalist program in Partners as an example. There tends to be more turnover in hospitalist positions simply because some physicians work in the job for a few years and then move on to a fellowship or other position. If a new hire also is not a fit with the organization, then turnover increases more, which can add to costs for the organization and upset a carefully developed culture.

Feuquay says that when he first arrived in Flagstaff, rapid growth meant equally rapid hiring of hospitalists, and some of the hires were not good fits. Even though the group and hospital continue to expand, both have settled into a more steady and purposeful way of handling their growth and success.

“Nothing makes an employed hospitalist feel more comfortable than a stable organization that continues to support their group,” says Feuquay.

Megan Nordvedt, manager of medical affairs and physician recruitment for Flagstaff Medical Center, says cultural fit is everything when physicians join a new organization. “If a physician feels the culture is familiar and comfortable, warm, welcoming and professional, they are sure to perform better and stay with the hospital a long time.”

In turn, a culture that encourages happy physicians and staff and respect for those who care for patients ultimately results in better productivity and patient care. “We have had patient satisfaction scores above the 90th percentile for almost three years,” says Feuquay. “This is because when doctors come to work happy, they take good care of patients and people leave the hospital happy.”

How to evaluate culture

“We try to be very clear when recruiting about how our group members interact with each other,” says Cape Girardeau’s Foley. This includes expectations about how hard the group expects its surgeons to work, along with expectations regarding open communication and “camaraderie with other surgeons, and how we have developed a high-functioning team,” he says.

Kevin N. Bartow, M.D., the newest physician partner with Cape Girardeau Surgical Clinic, says that the group’s executive team meets every Monday morning to check out from the weekend and review patients’ statuses. Bartow had done a rotation with the surgical practice and was aware of its openness. He suggests that physician candidates ask plenty of questions when discussing opportunities with potential groups. “For example, do you have policies that outline benefits for all physicians? How is work distributed?” He also suggests inquiring about compensation for the next two to five years. Holt advises to also ask about details regarding how compensation is distributed and whether any component of compensation is based on production.

It may help to ask how physicians in a group practice assign new patients to physicians, along with how new physicians contribute to strategies and decision-making in a practice or hospital. Other considerations include consistency of policies and procedures and how they’re applied. Often, talking with the practice administrator as part of the process provides clues to communication, governance and decision-making.

Lee recommends that a potential hire come back after the initial interview and shadow the physicians for a day to see what the practice is like. “But even if you can spend an afternoon with someone” she says, it is helpful to get a feel for the culture.

At the very least, candidates should be sure to speak to as many physician peers as possible. “For hospitalists, make sure you meet other hospitalists and ask them questions,” Feuquay says. “Meet other subspecialists and ask them questions.” He says the hospital tour often gives potential hires a chance to see how others perceive the hospitalist group, which can be a selling point for applicants.

Throughout your interview, tour and site visit, observe communication and interactions. “Pay attention to the way the physicians interact with one another, with nurses, specialists and managers,” says Nordvedt. “How is everyone working together, and how do others achieve the work/life balance outside the hospital?”

Sometimes it is tough to identify signs of low morale, physicians who anger easily or hidden hierarchies, but the more people you talk with and the more time you can spend touring and visiting hospital or practice locations, the more likely you can spot signs of cultural fit. How employees treat patients, vendors or one another may provide clues to how organized, hectic or stressful the culture is on a typical day, and whether everyone buys into the mission and vision of the organization.

Owen J. Dahl, MBA, FACHE, of Owen Dahl Consulting in The Woodlands, Texas, says he advises asking for meeting minutes if possible, or at least to review a meeting agenda from group practices or medical staffs. “Notice if the agenda focuses solely on finances.” He says there may be nothing wrong with that, but if the first agenda item focuses on patient quality of care, that sends an altogether different message than if every agenda for the quarter focuses on finances. It’s up to the candidate to decide which type of message or value fits with his or her beliefs, styles and vision for this new opportunity.

Jonathon Foley MD

Finding candidates who support the group’s culture is key for Jonathon Foley, M.D., president of Missouri’s Cape Girardeau Surgical Clinic. “The work we do is too stressful to spend energy fighting the organization,” he says.

Feuquay recommends asking for a tour of the hospital and town. All candidates who visit his group have a tour of the Flagstaff area with a group member’s spouse, who is a real estate agent. Finally, remember to be observant not only throughout the planned activities, but during your entire site visit. So many clues to the potential employer’s culture are better ascertained through observation. As soon as you arrive, observe the feel of the waiting room and check-in or admissions area. Dahl suggests noting details such as whether notes and signs that inform patients about payment and policies are professional in appearance. If your tour takes you into clinical areas, observe nuances such as lighting, cleanliness and organization. Even the employee break room atmosphere might give a clue about the culture.

One of the best ways to assess cultural fit is to evaluate the intangible feelings you have when making the recruitment visit. Lee encourages physicians to go with their guts. “We try to make decisions based on finances and hours and such, but I think you also need to go a little bit with your gut and where you think you will have the best time,” Lee says. “You are going to be spending a lot of time at work, and you need to genuinely enjoy the folks you are working with.”

Teresa Odle is a frequent contributor to PracticeLink Magazine.




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