Transition from Resident to Attending

What resident physicians considering an academic career should know

Brendan Murphy , Senior News Writer

Working in an academic setting can give physicians a hands-on patient-care experience while giving them the opportunity train the next generation of physicians. It also offers physicians a chance to pursue scholarly pursuits through research.

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A panel discussion held during the AMA Research Challenge—an event that provides medical students, residents, fellows and international medical graduates the opportunity to showcase research and engage with the AMA beyond traditional policy and advocacy opportunities—examined what career opportunities in academic medicine look like. Here are some key takeaways.

Many physicians working in the academic field find the mentorship aspect of the position rewarding.

“Growing up with the medical system, through education I had a lot of truly great teachers and mentors,” said Alëna A. Balasanova, MD, an AMA member and associate professor in the psychiatry department at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. “I felt compelled to pay that forward and to teach the next generation the way that I was taught. It was something that was really important to me—to give something back. That was really what academic medicine represented to me.”

For residents looking to gain insight on the research process and the work their peers are doing, the finals of the 2023 AMA Research Challenge take place Feb. 6. Five finalists will present their research to an expert panel of judges, with AMA President Jesse Ehrenfeld, MD, as the host. Watch as the winner of the $10,000 grand prize is announced live.

Working at an academic medical center allows a physician to be a jack of all trades.

“One of my mentors as a medical student got me interested in academic medicine because she did a little bit of everything,” said AMA member Tracy Henry, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Emory University. “And that’s what I wanted. I do a little bit [of] inpatient medicine, a bit of outpatient, I teach, I do a little bit of scholarly work in research as well.

“In academic medicine, the sky is the limit,” Dr. Henry added. “You stay on top of all the latest ... evidenced-based guidelines and you have the ultimate career because you are shaping the next generation of learners.”

The AMA Transitioning to Practice series has guidance and resources on deciding where to practice, negotiating an employment contract, managing work-life balance, and other essential tips about starting in practice.

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Illustration of resident looking at a diagnostic image

Particularly as a recent graduate, you may have the energy and desire to shake things up. It might not happen right away, however.

“It took several years to develop what I was looking to develop and what I thought would truly help the patients,” Dr. Balasanova said. “Since then, it has blossomed into additional services. … It was a challenge to get buy in and it was a challenge to get resources.”

“Many of us, particularly as younger grads, go into academia with these bright ideas hoping to change the world, and I still do, but it takes time and it doesn’t happen overnight.”

Even if you don’t move from residency to an academic position or work in the field for a decade plus, if you are conducting research and contributing to the body of knowledge for the medical field, you can make the move.

“I definitely know it’s never too late [to get into academic medicine],” said Nicole Riddle, MD, an AMA member, associate professor and associate residency program director in the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology at the University of South Florida in Tampa. “I know people that were community practitioners with no exposure to medical students for sometimes 20 years. You can go back. You have to be mindful of it. You can write papers and be involved in local” medical associations.