Do a Site Visit Right

Make the most of this chance to visit a new community by knowing ahead of time what you want to learn about the practice, the key players in the medical community, and what the area has to offer. It can be a fun few days, but remember, it's still and interview.

By Karen Childress | Feature Articles | January/February 2009


Afshin Malaki, MD, right, and his wife, Lis Annette, chose to move from Brooklyn, New York, where he completed his OB/GYN residency, to Ames, Iowa. Afshin now practices at the McFarland Clinic, while Lis Annette plans to resume her career as an anesthesiologist now their children are in school.

Afshin Malaki, MD, right, and his wife, Lis Annette, chose to move from Brooklyn, New York, where he completed his OB/GYN residency, to Ames, Iowa. Afshin now practices at the McFarland Clinic, while Lis Annette plans to resume her career as an anesthesiologist now their children are in school.

You’re doing well on your job search. You’ve narrowed your focus and have gotten past preliminary interviews to the point where it’s clear that there is a likely match between what you are seeking in a new job and what a hospital or practice has to offer. It’s time to go take a look.

A site visit, which may be as short as one day or as long as three, is your opportunity to size up both the practice and the community. On a typical site visit, you might fly in on a Thursday, have meetings, tours, and interviews on Friday, enjoy dinner with key physicians or administrators that evening, and then tour the community with a real estate agent on Saturday. You may choose to stay through Sunday in order to further explore the community.

Jolene Yates is a physician recruiting consultant with Banner Health in Greeley, Colorado. She says that a site visit is critical for any physician considering a job offer.“Through phone conversations they can get the essence of the job, but they really need to experience it firsthand,” says Yates.

Before you leave home

Afshin Malaki, MD was completing his OB/GYN residency in Brooklyn, New York, when he and his wife, Lis Annette, began thinking about where to settle down with their two young children. They read articles about career options and researched cities as potential job opportunities came their way. “We made a checklist of criteria,” says Malaki. “We wanted to live somewhere not too small, but not a metropolitan area either. “Malaki and his family ultimately chose Ames, Iowa, where he now practices at the McFarland Clinic, a 166-physician multi-specialty, multi-site group. Ames, a university town, has a population of about 55,000 and Des Moines is less than an hour away.

As soon as you know you’re going on a site visit, request information about the area and the practice opportunity. Visit the Chamber of Commerce website, read the local newspaper online, and use the internet to dig deep. Resist the temptation to limit research to only what you hope you’ll find. Play “private eye” to uncover both positives and negatives about the community. Ask your residency program director and colleagues if they know of other doctors who have settled in the community you are considering and don’t be shy about calling those individuals. They can share their experiences and clue you in about what to be on the lookout for.

Request a copy of you interview agenda in advance. Who you meet with will depend on many factors including the size of the group or hospital, the structure of the organization, and the length of your visit. Be prepared to meet many new people over a short period of time. It’s not uncommon for a hospital to host an informal breakfast or lunch buffet and invite the entire medical staff. “We want to be sure candidates meet everyone who they might be affected by in the practice and give our providers a chance to meet the candidate,” says Amy Chang, the primary care physician recruiter at Pacific Medical Centers in Seattle. Expect to have one-on-one or small group meetings with other physicians, administrators, and even board members.

If you are making your own travel arrangements, schedule flight layovers to accommodate delays. Confirm your reservations and flight status the day before you travel. Don’t take a red-eye; you’ll want to be rested for your interview. Schedule a buffer day on each end of your trip if at all possible, and be sure to carry on your interview clothes and other essentials in case your bags are delayed.

When in doubt, inquire in advance about how to dress for your interview. Chang says physicians should simply ask about appropriate attire. “If you’re in a rural area, a three-piece suit might scare people. But in Seattle, a polo shirt and Dockers won’t fly,” says Chang.

If you want to look around the community with the help of a real estate professional, find out if your recruiter is arranging that appointment and, if not, ask them to recommend someone. Decide in advance whether your want to look at houses on the market or just become familiar with neighborhoods. Be sure to quiz the real estate agent about the community while you are driving around. “They know everything,” says Justin Tidwell, the managing director of physician recruiting at Martin, Fletcher, a Dallas-based search firm. “They’ll tell you the truth and connect you with people in the community…schools, religious facilities…if they don’t have the information you want, they can usually find it.”

If you have children (or plan to), find out as much as possible about the local schools and arrange to meet with the principals of the ones that are likely options. Educational opportunities were important to the Malakis on two levels. First, they wanted to make sure their children, ages 5 and 7, would have access to good schools. They visited both public and private schools and recently enrolled their children in a private Christian school. Before moving to the United States for Malaki to do his residency, Lis Annette was an anesthesiology resident in Denmark. Now that the couple’s children are in school, she plans to resume her career. “This was a criteria…that we would be in a place where she could finish her residency without a long commute,” Malaki says.

Decide in advance if your spouse or partner is going to explore career opportunities during the site visit. If that’s the case, ask your recruiter for ideas. While he or she probably won’t be able to arrange interviews, you can probably get local information and leads that will be useful and time-saving.


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