Here’s How to Find Your Next Oncology Job: Tips for Oncologists on the Career Move

Here’s How to Find Your Next Oncology Job: Tips for Oncologists on the Career Move

Miriam Knoll, MD

Apr 09, 2024

Growing up in a family of physicians, I learned firsthand how physicians can lead many kinds of careers: my mom was a pediatrician who had her office in the basement of our home, my dad was a vascular surgeon who opened outpatient surgical centers, and my uncle worked at an academic medical center. Medical training tends to expose trainees to the academic model, but the truth is there are many different aspects of medicine. When I finished my training in 2016, I started working at the John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack Meridian Health; that position was a hybrid between private practice, community health care, and corporate medicine. I then worked in a strictly private practice based at a network hospital before joining Northwell Health in 2024. With the growth of corporate medicine and the decline of private practice, oncologists will likely have more opportunities to make career changes while looking for job opportunities.

How should an oncologist investigate a career change? How does one find their second or third job out of training? Here are some strategies to consider:

Know What You’re Looking For

The primary role of an oncologist is to take care of patients with cancer. There are many other parts of a job that are ancillary to that, including teaching, research, media, nonprofit work, advocacy, leadership/administration, and more. What’s important to you? There isn’t a right or wrong answer, and it’s okay if that answer changes. You may have been looking for something right out of training that no longer serves your goals a few years into your professional life. What’s important to you now may be different a year from now. Spend time thinking about what you’re looking for in your career.

It’s important to reevaluate your priorities regularly. Ask yourself:

  • What do I want my day-to-day to look like at work?
  • What kind of setting do I want to be seeing patients in?
  • What are my financial goals?
  •  What other things are important to me (research, teaching, writing, leadership)?

Yes, patient care is #1. Yes, you want to perform well and meet expectations. At the same time, realize that this is a job. You are filling a role that’s important and you also can fill a different one, if you so choose. Invest in yourself and the career you want, which may mean staying in your current position, or not. Focus on your personal goals and in what ways your position aligns with what you’re looking for. If your job isn’t in alignment, start looking for your next move.

Cultivate Your Network and Mentors

You remember finding your first job, right? You probably asked every attending and resident you worked with if they knew of any openings. You showed up to every conference and talked to as many people as possible. You searched LinkedIn and job boards. These are things you should continue doing if you’re open to switching jobs. You want to keep your eyes and ears open to opportunities that may be more attractive to you.

Radiation oncologist Kristin Higgins, MD, was hired at Emory University after finishing her training at Duke. She worked her way up the ladder to become a full professor and vice chair for clinical research while leading the lung cancer program for the cancer center. More recently, she was appointed chief clinical officer at City of Hope Cancer Center in Atlanta. 

Dr. Higgins shared, “Many times, a physician enters into a career with certain goals they want to achieve, and once they’re achieved [those], one must stop and ask themselves, ‘What’s next?’ For me, I thought a lot about how I want to have an impact on a broader scale in the world of oncology. It’s important to keep reevaluating the current circumstances, where you’re at and where you want to be. I don’t like to be stagnant.”

Dr. Walter J. Curran, one of Dr Higgin’s mentors, called her to tell her about the opportunity to work for City of Hope Cancer Center as chief clinical officer. When she confirmed interest, he recommended her for the position. Dr. Higgins explained that when someone recommends you from ‘the inside,’ you’re much more likely to be offered the position, especially because many of these jobs aren’t advertised. If you are starting to think about changing jobs, she recommends having conversations with people that support you and can vouch for you, especially if that person holds a similar position to one you’re interested in.

“Seeing Dr. Curran in these broad roles allowed me to see what I’m capable of doing,” she said. “When you’re thinking of a new job, don’t underestimate what you’re capable of. I’ve applied for other positions and have not gotten them, too. Interviewing for many different positions is a really good exercise to go through because you learn how to interview and how to communicate. Don’t be afraid to throw your hat in the ring.”

Don’t Be Married to Your Current Position

Narjust Florez, MD, FASCO, is associate director of the Cancer Care Equity Program and a thoracic medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center. Dr. Florez noted that there are many reasons to look for a new job. For some people, it’s tied to a change in life circumstance, like getting married or divorced. Sometimes, it’s because you’re getting burned out at their current position despite attempts to course correct. Perhaps you’re looking for leadership opportunities and your employer keeps passing you over. Or, you’re looking for a higher salary.

Simone’s maxim—‘Institutions don’t love you back’—is true,” Dr. Florez said. “Unfortunately, your boss may overlook you for promotion because they’re distracted by someone shiny and new from an outside institution. Be strategic and look for other opportunities.”

Dr. Florez recommends emailing the physician head of your disease group instead of the chairperson, who probably gets too many emails to respond to. Many positions are not advertised so it’s worthwhile to reach out even if you don’t see a job listing posted. Once you have a job offer, Dr. Florez believes it’s imperative to read the fine print and ask outside colleagues for help reviewing your contract.

“Before I left the University of Wisconsin to join Dana-Farber, several women physicians I met online, who are now close friends and colleagues, helped me go over my new position with a fine-tooth comb,” she said. The details, she noted, are really important, including office space, administrative support, academic ranking, and clinic time.

Go For It!

I hope these tips are helpful to you on your quest for a fulfilling career. The next step is: go for it! There’s a world of opportunities open to you.


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