Now is the time to pat yourself on the back. You’re a physician ready to tackle the world after years of studying, long hours and low pay. Although you’re in your final year of residency, you’re feeling a little overwhelmed and unsure about the future. You want to make wise practice decisions, but are you really prepared to do so?
Since you’ve worked exceedingly hard to reach this point, it’s important to spend time developing a career path for your future and avoid career mistakes.
In order to provide practical advice for residents upon completing their residency, PracticeLink Magazine sought the opinions of five physicians who focused on nine major mistakes residents should try to avoid. They believe these miscues will have a crucial impact on whether you will be happy with your medical career or not.
Mistake 1: Indecisive fellowship action
For many residents, applying for a fellowship or finding a job is a difficult career choice. Start looking for a fellowship approximately 18 months to two years before your residency ends—even if you’re not sure you want to pursue a fellowship, says Karen Dallas, M.D. Dallas is completing a one-year fellowship program with the BloodCenter of Wisconsin, in association with the Medical College of Wisconsin. “I waited until the last year, and it was almost too late,” she says. “When I applied, many of the programs weren’t accepting applications anymore.”
When Dallas was accepted for her fellowship at the BloodCenter of Wisconsin for her position as a hematopathologist, she received a letter of acceptance, which she signed. “There was nothing listed in the letter as to what would be required of me or exactly what I was agreeing to. The only information I had was the pay.” For example, she didn’t know whether she’d be required to do a research project or be on call every day. She thought it would be “worked out” when she got there.
“Now, the rules have changed as of November 2010 because the leadership of the program has changed. There are rules which I never would have agreed to,” she adds. “Doctors tolerate this unfair work situation because they think it’s just an extension of their residency training, but a fellowship is more like a pre-job.”
In order to avoid this situation, Dallas recommends making sure the fellowship requirements are clearly spelled out.
Mistake 2: Ignoring recruiters’ free services
Susan Wilturner, M.D., has been a solo practitioner in family practice and metabolic medicine for eight years. Now located in Los Gatos, Calif., she recommends speaking with recruiters earlier rather than later. Wilturner points out that most residents are not approached by physicians or hospitals handing them business cards, asking them to join the practice.
Recruiters don’t cost residents any money, and they can provide residents with options. With the time constraints residents are under, it’s difficult to look for potential jobs. “If recruiters come to your hospital, make sure you sign up and attend these seminars,” Wilturner says.
Wilturner worked with several recruiters before she settled on one whose job it was to help “pair her up” with established doctors in the area. She was seeking physicians in the same specialty so they could share overhead. “If you’re certain you want a solo practice from the start, this is a good step to take to help you get established in your practice,” she says. But,
Wilturner warns, be careful not to underestimate the time it takes to find the work option that meets your needs.
Wilturner says residents shouldn’t rule out opening a solo practice or be intimidated by this decision. “You can create the environment you want, what services you offer, and the time you spend with the patient,” she says. “You can shape and grow the practice into your own investment.”