Transition from Resident to Attending

To succeed in your physician job search, first learn the process

Timothy M. Smith , Contributing News Writer

AMA News Wire

To succeed in your physician job search, first learn the process

Jul 1, 2024

Finding employment as a physician can be a daunting process, especially if you’re a final-year resident or fellow. You might expect the decision to be largely dictated by each opportunity’s practice location and compensation package, but determining whether a position is right for you requires going much, much deeper. 

“There are lots of questions to answer: Is there a need for my specialty in the service area? Will I have the resources I need? What is the local payer mix?” said Leah Grant, president of the AMN Healthcare Physician Solutions division, a major health care recruiter. “It's understandable if the average physician coming out of residency or fellowship is not fluent in all of this.”

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A guide (login required) published by AMN Healthcare Physician Solutions, formerly known as Merritt Hawkins, explores how to assess a medical practice opportunity through eight essential steps.

The first: “Accept the process for what it is,” the guide says.

You can learn more with a separate AMA STEPS Forward® toolkit, “What to Look for in Your First or Next Practice: Evaluate the Practice Environment to Match Your Priorities.” It is enduring material and designated by the AMA for a maximum of 0.5 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™.

The toolkit is part of the AMA Ed Hub™, an online learning platform that brings together high-quality CME, maintenance of certification, and educational content from trusted sources, all in one place—with activities relevant to you, automated credit tracking, and reporting for some states and specialty boards.

Learn more about AMA CME accreditation.

Embrace the learning curve

“Physicians considering a career change are taking a step that will have profound consequences for themselves and their families,” the guide says.

Therefore, understanding the process is crucial. The guide recommends keeping the following factors in mind.

It will be rigorous and time consuming. This would be true for any physician looking make a job change, but it is especially true for those just entering the physician workforce. According to the most recent survey by AMN Healthcare Physician Solutions, 56% of final-year residents said they had received 100 or more job solicitations.

“But it's not just the number of offers,” Grant said. “It’s that you haven't been trained in determining what's a good hospital system and what isn’t.”

Much of your time will be spent on the phone. Recruiters or other representatives of the practice should be available to answer questions before an on-site interview is set. Take advantage of this. 

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Illustration of resident looking at a diagnostic image

“Just as you would learn all you could about a patient's background and history before you would prescribe a treatment, do an in-depth diagnosis where you learn all you can about the practice and the community,” Grant said. “This is about your future, your family's future. You want to make sure you're doing your due diligence and vetting things out.”

Include your significant other in discussions. “If you’re in a relationship, it's not just you looking to make a change,” Grant said. “Especially if you’re wide open geographically and you end up choosing to relocating from, say, Los Angeles to rural Georgia, that's going to be a big shift for your partner. Getting your significant other’s buy-in is critical.”

Learn as much as you can before the on-site interview. “The fact-finding, no matter what practice you're looking at, can become standardized,” Grant said. “I encourage residents to write out a list of questions that are critical for them to answer.”

Some key questions to ask include:

  • What is the total compensation package?
  • Is there a relocation allowance?
  • Where will I have to work day to day?
  • What are the on-call expectations?
  • How many patients am I expected to see per day?
  • Is mentoring available?

Also, learn all you can about the financial health of the practice. This will enable you to quickly and easily separate the roles you would consider from those you wouldn’t.

“Keep in mind the interview is for confirmation, not for exploration,” the guide says. “By the time you meet your potential colleagues or employer, you should know what the practice and the community are all about.”

The AMA has assembled a variety of resources to help physicians flourish in the employment setting. They include the AMA Physicians’ Guide to Hospital Employment Contracts (PDF), free for AMA members, and the Annotated Model Physician-Group Practice Employment Agreement (PDF).

Learn more with the AMA about understanding physician employment contracts.