From Resident to Recently Employed: Personal Advice on Finding Your First Oncology Job

From Resident to Recently Employed: Personal Advice on Finding Your First Oncology Job

Miriam Knoll, MD

Oct 24, 2016

I recently completed my residency and the accompanying long process of finding my first position after training. Looking for that job was so different than applying for residency, and I have often heard senior residents wish aloud that job searching could be more like registering for the Match, in which all open positions are posted and everyone would serially interview for each job. The fact is, the Match is an artificial construct in the hierarchical world of medicine, and residents should embrace the newfound reality check that is the very core of looking for their first attending position. Here are some tips from someone who was just in your shoes.

1. Decide early in your training what kind of job you are interested in.

There are many different types of jobs in medicine and they are often roughly divided into “academic” or “private practice” positions, plus jobs in industry, government, and nonprofits, among others. Since the majority of your training will have been spent in an academic type of environment (hence the reason for your training program to exist in your hospital), it can sometimes be difficult to imagine working in a different professional setting. You may have had exposure to private practice or other settings through relatives, friends, or colleagues. Consider seeking out advice from these individuals in addition to speaking to the chair, program director, and attendings at your institution. Don’t be afraid to explore different options. You need to find the right job for you, and it may be different than the job your mentor chose to take when they were at your stage in life.

Something to keep in mind is that professional settings are becoming more fluid and less siloed. Physicians in academic centers develop close relationships with their patients, and physicians in private practice make significant contributions to clinical research—it’s not always either/or. A colleague of mine, Dr. Glen Gejerman, a radiation oncologist at Hackensack University Medical Center and a partner at Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA), where I currently work, shared a story with me. “My first job out of residency was at the same department where I completed my training,” he said. “After receiving a very attractive offer, I accepted a position in private practice. I had conflicting emotions: during my residency training there was a strong emphasis on our responsibility to advance the field of radiation oncology via clinical research. While academia certainly provides more of the mentorship, structure, and resources necessary for research, there are opportunities for private practitioners to participate in clinical trials. Many of my colleagues in private practice are active in trials available through ASCO, the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group, and the National Cancer Institute’s Community Oncology Research Program. I am fortunate to practice at RCCA, where more than 300 clinical trials are offered across all of our locations. We have developed the infrastructure to conduct both retrospective and prospective trials and are able to offer our patients novel therapies. While many private practices are more focused on clinical care, there are opportunities for those looking to combine a strong patient-focused career with research participation.”

2. Prioritize your must-haves.

There are many different factors that characterize your “dream job,” including hospital/practice environment, pay and benefits, location, responsibilities, and patient population. You may be able to find a job that has all of them, but you may not. It’s imperative to explore what your must-haves are. For example, if your spouse is still completing their training, you may want to work close by. Others want to move back close to their family, especially if they lived far away during residency. Some trainees prioritize the type of position they are interested in, no matter the location (for example: an academic job). There is no right or wrong answer—everyone is different. You need to find the right job for yourself, and that may be different from anyone else you know. Figuring out what’s most important to you will help you hone in on where to look for the best opportunities for you.

3. Utilize every resource to find job opportunities.

Recruiters, websites, cold-calling, and word of mouth are all ways to find a job opening. Many jobs are filled internally before those hiring even post it publicly! Therefore, it’s essential to share your job quest with everyone you meet. When I started looking for a job, I told all my family members, friends, and acquaintances, “I’m completing my training soon and am starting to look for a job. If you hear of anything, please let me know!” Even individuals who do not work in medicine may hear about a position or know of someone in your field, who may know of someone else, etc. Widening your “search committee” to include more people will help you find more opportunities.

Tell your colleagues and co-residents in other specialties in the hospital that you’re job hunting, including your friend who is a cardiology fellow and that attending neurosurgeon with whom you frequently share patients. Even though they aren’t in your specialty, they may know of openings through their network and can perhaps reach out to recommend you for a position. Your education and responsibilities during your training may be very specialty-focused, but as an attending you will need to work collaboratively with physicians across all specialties. Doctors and hospitals know this, too, so when a recommendation on your behalf comes from a physician outside your specialty, that is taken seriously as well.

4. Have a rock-solid answer to the question, “Why should we hire you?”

Each job will have many applicants. Ask yourself, “Why should they hire me?” In your mind, you need to build the case for why you would be a valuable addition to the practice you are joining. Think about it now so that you can confidently advocate for yourself during interviews. Go through your ACGME case log: perhaps you’ve had training in certain rare disease sites, or have experience with valuable procedures. You may have done research in a field where you now want to focus your future practice.

I remember learning this lesson early on in my training. My former chair, Dr. Ken Rosenzweig, led a mission to make Mount Sinai’s Radiation Oncology Department entirely paperless via an expanded electronic medical record (EMR). These changes were initially difficult for us residents, who needed to learn the new note-writing and order-entry systems. Dr. Rosenzweig told us, “Any skill you’re learning, especially one that not many other physicians have, is going to be something you can highlight when you’re looking for a job. You will have worked through an EMR conversion and that experience might be something a future employer is looking for. So even if you hate doing this now, it is going to be something you are proud of when you look back.”

My overall advice is to look at the big picture and strive to find a unique place for yourself within the world of oncology. I wish you success in landing your dream job and embarking on the medical career you’ve been working so hard to attain.


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