How to make your first job after residency last

By the time freshly minted physicians complete their residencies, they have tended to a great deal — an inquisitive mind, an investigative fervor, newborns, long-been-borns, colleagues and so forth. But somewhere between dressing wounds and addressing medical journals, doctors forgot to rear their careers a new study postulates.

Atlanta-based healthcare recruiting firm Jackson & Coker conducted a study amongst 500 physicians, tracing a career pathway with a startlingly similar onset for most of its subjects. According to the report’s findings, over 50 percent of physicians leave their first jobs within the first five years, and a majority of those only remain for a mere one or two years. With such a lengthy set of firsts, longevity was curiously left to the wayside for reasons Tony Stajduhar, president of the Permanent Recruitment Division of Jackson Coker, identified as stemming from mismatched priorities.

"As a recruiter who has helped hundreds of young doctors find the jobs they really want, I find that many medical residents and fellows focus on the wrong things in their first job search," he said. "As a basis for making a decision about a first job opportunity, for example, location is shaky ground. But it's the top priority for many, and the results often speak for themselves." 

To assist physician job seekers in obtaining the right position from the start, Stajduhar shared an inventory of tips to which industry newbies should adhere when easing themselves into healthcare employment.

  • Quality over all else. "In contracts, those who stayed more than 10 years at their first practice said the most important driver for their decision was not location, but the quality of the practice. There is an important lesson here for any resident on a job search," Stajduhar said.
  • An early start could mean a longer stay. The proper timeframe to begin the search for a first job is at least a year before residency program completion. "Many organizations looking to hire physicians begin their search 12-18 months out. Of course, it varies by specialty and sub-specialty — some hospitals and practices start several years ahead — but 12-18 months is an industry average.”
  • Expand your comfort zone. Decisions based on emotional comfort are not necessarily for the best (i.e., returning to your hometown or staying in your residency location).
  • Keep in mind your personality type and practice preference. Consider whether you would prefer to be in a hospital environment or a private practice and what variety of disciplines/specialties you would enjoy for more than just two years down the road.
  • Contemplate what would be a good fit for your family.  "We focus 60-70 percent of our work on a candidate's family needs for a reason," said Stajduhar. "A family's needs are critically important to the decision and, if possible, your spouse or significant other should join you on out-of-town interviews to check out the area's schools, services, etc."
  • When it comes to money, be realistic. "It might be wise to accept a lower starting salary as a trade-off for a job that holds considerable opportunities for expansion into new specialties or areas of practice.”
  • Be sure to query correctly. "Above all, it's important to remember that Utopia doesn't exist. It's best to have that fact in mind when you begin the job search. Our study found that there is a lot of disappointment out there over first job choices, but it doesn't have to be that way if medical residents keep an open mind to all opportunities, ask the right questions and answer them realistically — whether or not they choose to work with a recruiting firm," Stajduhar concluded.

To view the full survey, go here. For more commentary on the survey, visit the Jackson & Coker newsletter.