As with many things this year, COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the physician job market for residents, fellows and experienced physicians who are looking for more hours or a complete change. Although competitive, especially in larger hospitals and health systems, the emergency medicine job market has always been a robust marketplace. In our experiences before the COVID-19 pandemic, residents commonly found an opportunity or had multiple offers after graduation. Job changes for experienced physicians were typically seamless transitions from one place to the next. There was always a chance, in a highly desired area or health system with a long-established team, it would be hard to get a foot in the door, but there were options in the field. Today’s market, however, has many wondering where to turn.
Now, more than ever, you need to stand out. It’s not only about how you look on paper, but how you communicate and share your experiences, personality and connections overall. We surveyed several of our clinical leaders and recruiters to find out what helps position a candidate higher than other applicants interested in limited spots on an emergency medicine team. Use these tips to make yourself stand out from other physician candidates in today’s highly competitive job market.
1| Build Relationships
The old saying goes, “it is all about who you know,” and we agree. In a tight market, relationships are especially important. Relationships help you get in the door or to the front of the line. One of the most important relationships you should focus on building (and maintaining) is with a recruiter in your desired organization and location.
The job you want may not be open but narrowing down the search and staying in contact with a recruiter can have significant benefits in the long run. You want to be the first candidate the team thinks of when the opportunity does become available. If it’s not open now, do not give up. Answer calls from the recruiter, ask questions and be honest with the team. A good relationship with a recruiter not only helps you feel better about the organization but helps the recruiter open doors in the future.
For residents, start figuring out what area you want to be in during your first or second year in your residency program. This will give you a head start against other candidates who are still trying to figure it out by year three and four. Start building relationships with medical directors, recruiters and clinical team members in the areas you think you want to be in. Stay in touch, be open to different opportunities and soak in all the advice you can. Good jobs in highly desirable areas get taken quickly, so getting in line early doesn’t hurt!
2| Be a Team Player
Medicine used to be immensely focused on the physician and how the physician contributed to high-quality and efficient patient care, but medicine isn’t just about one person. Emergency medicine is a team sport. You must be able to be part of, and work well with, every member of the team.
Important to keep in mind – sometimes you are the quarterback and sometimes you are not. When interviewing for a job, make sure you understand the role and expectations of physicians in the department and how they impact patient care. Also, understand the role of the advanced practice clinicians on the team. Are APCs managing solely the fast-track area or also running point in the main department?
Saying you are a team player in a job interview or conversation with a recruiter is not enough. You must demonstrate your skills on how you can work as a team. Think about examples in your past experiences that define teamwork. Be sure to share those with your recruiter and other clinical team members involved in the hiring process.
3| Attitude is Everything
In a fast-paced emergency department, team members with a good attitude who are willing to work hard and work together are critical to the flow of the department. A candidate who is friendly, open, flexible, adaptable and grateful always stands out in a crowd. Recruiters look for someone whose personality and attitude compliment the current team. This doesn’t mean the recruiting team is looking for someone who is an exact replica of the other team members, but he/she needs to feel confident a candidate will fit in, both for the sake of the individual’s happiness and the team’s success. Most recruiters tend to promote or push candidates to the local leadership team that match these qualities. Remember to be yourself, be open and get to know the recruiter, so he or she has a chance to learn more about who you are personally and professionally.
4| Be Flexible
Emergency medicine recruiters are looking for flexible candidates who are open to other opportunities, especially when the market is tight. We often say the best way to get your foot in the door is to go where you are needed, even if it’s not the hospital or schedule you initially desired. A willingness to fill open shifts can make a big impact on the practice in the long run. If you are not looking for a nocturnist position but are open to one to get your foot in the door, make sure to mention this to the recruiter. Also, if you are willing to work part-time at multiple locations within a system until a full-time position opens at your desired location, let the recruiter know. The local team and recruiter will be more open to offering a full-time spot to a candidate they are confident will be flexible when schedules are tight.
5| Make Connections
Connections do not only refer to who you know in the job interview process, but how you can connect with the role, team, patients and community. Leadership teams are looking for someone who can connect at every level of the practice and beyond the hospital doors.
Inside the emergency department, the ability to understand and appreciate the racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, religious or other differences which can affect a patient’s healthcare experience and outcomes is extremely important. The more you connect to your patients, the more you will gain their trust and they will usually be more likely to accept and follow treatment plans.
During the interview process, make connections to your cultural competency and share previous patient satisfaction scores you received. Also, share your approach to connecting with the patient and what you feel is the most important part. If you made major improvements or helped turn around your previous department, explain how and what you did to help your team connect to the patients.
Beyond the clinical aspect, leadership teams and hospital administrators love to see someone dedicated to and knowledgeable of the local community. Think about ways you can contribute to the community outside of the hospital and share any prior volunteer experiences. Candidates who want to make a difference inside of the hospital and outside in the community are often top picks for leadership.
6| Don’t Focus on the Number
This goes two ways – monetarily and applications. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the lack of jobs available. Do not focus on the number of applications you are submitting compared to the number of offers coming in. This is a hard time for everyone searching, and even for those trying to fill the few open opportunities out there. When you are starting to feel down about the job hunt, ask yourself, “what is my motivation?” If you find money is your biggest motivation, refocusing on other priorities may be a good idea.
Compensation is important, and you should be paid well, but do not let that be the deciding factor in applying to a location or speaking with a recruiter if it checks all other boxes. Look at the bigger picture, the team you will be working with and your personal goals. If you can see yourself in this position long term, dollar signs shouldn’t be the only thing on your mind.
Remember, big sign-on bonuses often come at a price, so pay close attention when you see these advertised. Do not let the dollar signs blind you from getting to know more about the practice and the offer.
7| Focus on the Present
Ask yourself, “what can I focus on right now?” In between applying for jobs, do not forget to focus on the present. Your current job does not stop because you are looking for a new one. Make sure you are being the best physician and teammate you can be. Think about what you can do now to better yourself, your practice and gain experience to differentiate yourself from other candidates. Pick one or two of these things and dedicate quality time to them every single day. Whether it’s on a hospital-based committee or in your personal practice, remaining present is imperative.
How you set yourself apart will make the biggest impact in the interview process. At the end of the day, the hiring team wants to feel confident you are the very best candidate in the running. Although it can be frustrating, do not give up. You spent countless hours getting into this field and the right job will come. Remember to build relationships with recruiters, make connections to the hospital, community and patients, be flexible in your schedule and expectations, have a good attitude and focus on being the best physician and teammate you can be.