Back Your Physician Job Search: 3 Essential Factors to Consider

Your Physician Job Search: 3 Essential Factors to Consider

Selecting that right physician job opportunity in which to spend the next portion of your career can be an extremely daunting task, no matter what your experience level. And for new physicians about to conclude their residencies and enter the standard physician work force, it can be one of the most difficult decisions of your life.

There is one consolation, however: The process for making the right choice in your next physician job search is a familiar one for doctors, consisting largely of examination and diagnosis.

3 Essential Physician Job Search Considerations

When you’re faced with your next (and especially your first) physician job search, there are three main areas we recommend focusing on.

1. Finances. Until relatively recently, physician compensation data was somewhat limited. Today’s physicians are routinely salaried, however, and physician income data are regularly generated by the likes of benefits consulting companies like the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA).

The result is that physicians in most specialties can easily see what their peers are earning, although it’s important to remember that physician income varies widely by region. Some physician specialties, like psychiatry, vary more than others on a regional basis.

Income packages are often the least enticing in expensive areas of the country — think desirable urban areas like New York City and San Diego, where there’s a good deal of competition for any job, including physician jobs.

Physicians should also factor in debt, family obligations and investment and retirement goals when considering the financial potential of a job offer. A physician job opportunity that features loan forgiveness in exchange for a multi-year commitment to the community and a high level of compensation may well be more attractive — particularly for a new position — than a similar opportunity in a metro area with less pay and poorer job security.

The physician job search process requires an informed financial decision, which in turn requires some knowledge of the current business realities of medicine. Physicians should try to speak to advisors or recruiters regarding how much they should expect to be compensated, as well as the form it should take. There are certain advantages and disadvantages to salaries, signing bonuses, income guarantees, loan forgiveness, and other forms of physician compensation; each should be factored into a job offer’s overall financial attractiveness.

What are the starting and potential rates of compensation? How is potential measured or verified? How is income distributed within the organization? What are the incomes made by existing physicians? What’s the overhead, collection rate, percent of managed care, percent of Medicare and Medicaid within the group? What is the financial posture of the affiliated hospital? These are important questions to ask of potential employers, partners, or associates.

In addition, it’s important to understand the strategic direction of the organization proposing to recruit you. Are they moving toward collaborative, risk-sharing models, like Accountable Care Organizations and bundled payments? If so, is there a clear formula for how savings will be shared? Try also to determine how the organization's compensation structure might change in the short-term as well as the long-term.

By probing, you can see beyond the base financial offer and determine how a physician job opportunity really adds up financially. The key is to understand whether the practice will be financially viable after the conclusion of the initial income guarantee or salary contract period.

When you‘ve taken a detailed look at your financial needs and goals and thoroughly examined the financial parameters of a physician job opportunity — both the immediate salary or guarantee and the longer-term potential — you’ll be ready to make an informed decision.

2. Practice Setting. Today, many new physicians seem to prefer employment settings within a hospital, group practice or similar employer. Fewer newly trained physicians are seeking a solo practice, though some are still attracted to the autonomy and entrepreneurial benefits of a partnership setting.

Fortunately, now, there are now many more creative employment options for physicians to explore that offer economic security along with other perks such as favorable schedules and relatively quick paths to partnership. For more information about available practice settings, see "Choosing a Practice Setting: Exploring Your Options."

There are a few basic questions to ask when determining which practice setting is right for you. Do you want to perform in-patient medicine? What hours would you prefer to work? How much after-hours work are you okay with? Which type of procedure would you most like to perform? Do you interact well with other physicians? How much input would you prefer to have in a group governance situation? Are you comfortable with managed care, medical home or Accountable Care Organization (ACO) treatment protocols? Do you need extensive specialty support? Do you need to run your own show?

Entrepreneurial-minded physicians may feel more comfortable joining or associating with an established private practice, or, in increasingly rare cases, starting their own practice. Physicians who need a more controlled lifestyle, on the other hand, may seek a hospital or group setting. It’s mostly a question of balance. If you like the idea of the autonomy but hate the concept of doing extensive paperwork or supervising a support staff, you may want to sacrifice some independence by becoming an employee of the hospital or group practice. And if you want to be "where the action is," you may opt for a hospital-based practice.

In addition to asking yourself these critical questions, you should also speak to older physicians who have worked in a variety of practice settings. And remember, while your practice setting is an important factor, it’s often the people with whom you interact more than the setting itself that determines how well you fit in. That’s why it is so important to make sure as well as you can that your personality, expectations, and goals align with your employers and co-workers. For insight into accomplishing this, see "9 Physician Interview Questions: Do They Really Need You?"

3. Quality of Life/Geographic Location. Quality of life has a different meaning for everyone. To determine your specific quality-of-life requirements, ask yourself a few questions, such as:

• What are the must-have absolutes that I simply cannot live without?

• What will I be doing with my free time, and how will I spend my discretionary income?

• Do I require recreational options within 30 minutes, or three hours?

• How will my family and children affect what I need in a community?

The key here is not to focus on a particular community—i.e., "I must live in Aspen, Colorado." Rather, try to consider what you need in a location and then try to find a place that meets most of those needs. The number one factor is, of course, to what extent your skills are needed in the community, and where you can envision a viable long-term practice.

You may also need good public schools, because your medical school debt may preclude you from sending your children to private schools. Similarly, if finances dictate that you must have reasonably priced real estate, you may have to rule out San Francisco or New York Cities as reasonable options.

If water sports are essential to your well being, you’ll need to be around water. If museums, cafes, art galleries and the opera are what you need to be happy, you’ll need at least reasonable proximity to a major city.

New physicians often select a location because they’ve trained in the community, or are originally from there, regardless of whether or not the community really meets their personal or professional needs. That’s a major reason why so many new physicians end up relocating after their first year or two on the job. Think of it like finding the right suit or dress: If you insist on buying a particular designer brand, you may not find that it meets your exact fit requirements. But if you’re more open to other options, you’re far more likely to find something that fits perfectly.

After you’ve examined these three important factors in a physician job search, you’ll be in a much better position to find what you need. You’ll be able to determine the exact type of finances you want; you’ll know which type of setting to look for; you’ll have a great idea of what kind of community you want to live in. You’ll find that "shopping for a practice" is much like shopping for other items — it helps to know what you want and the price you’re ready to pay before entering the market.

Are you in the midst of a physician job search, or do you have questions about physician recruitment in your area? Contact us today for assistance from a Locum Leaders recruitment professional.

Adapted from an article originally published on

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