America faces a worsening physician shortage.
The American Association of Medical Colleges expects the physician deficit to widen to as many as 122,000 by 2030, led by a primary care provider shortfall as great as 55,000 and a specialist shortfall as great as 65,000. Although the U.S. population is expected to grow by about 10% through 2032, the senior population — those aged 65 and over — is expected to increase by about 50%.
In short, it’s a great time to decide to become an M.D. (a doctor of medicine, or allopathic physician) or D.O. (osteopathic physician). With thousands of job openings out there for the taking, it’s an even better time for aspiring doctors who’ve completed their training or are nearly done.
Of course, even highly sought-after medical professionals can’t simply walk into a hospital hiring office with a smile and a practitioners’ license and walk out with a full-time job. As is the case for many other lines of work, searching for jobs in the medical field is a drawn-out process.
Drawing on my practicing physician wife’s and colleagues’ hard-won experience, what follows is a general guide for early-career medical doctors (M.D.s) and doctors of osteopathic medicine (D.O.s) seeking employment. M.D.s and D.O.s have distinct practice philosophies, with D.O.s typically focused on integrative medicine and self-selecting into primary care; however, their post-medical-school training and state licensing requirements are identical and their post-licensing job opportunities are comparable.
Bear in mind that the relevance of specific tips, strategies, and procedures outlined below may vary by profession, medical specialty, and employer. And as with any job search, your best resources are mentors, career coaches, and older colleagues who’ve been there before.
Narrowing Down Your Choices: What Makes a Good Fit?
You can’t apply for every open position in your area or in the area you plan to move to after you complete your training. Here’s how to work through your options and narrow down your choices.
1. Get Your Training and Licensing Ducks in a Row
Medical employers looking to add a licensed physician to their team won’t consider your application without assurances that you are, in fact, a licensed physician. M.D.s and D.O.s must meet the following education, training, and licensing requirements:
- A four-year bachelor’s degree or better, usually in a prerequisite field like biology
- A diploma from an accredited medical school, usually obtained after no less than four years of study
- Successful completion of a three- to seven-year residency program (and, if necessary, a specialty or subspecialty fellowship)
- Full board licensing following successful completion of the USMLE or Osteopathic Board Certification (or both)
- Appropriate state medical licensing in the jurisdiction in which you expect to practice
- A DEA Diversion Control Division certification
2. Set Geographical Constraints
First, define the geography of your search. If you’re still in residency, you might still be debating where you’ll live after you’re done. Most residents remain close after residency since they’ve built professional networks during their tenure and may have family or social ties keeping them in place.
That said, plenty of doctors move across state lines after residency; several of my wife’s residency colleagues scattered as soon as they could, looking for new professional opportunities, closer proximity to family and friends, or simple changes in scenery. You’ll need to move, at least temporarily, if you hope to complete a specialty fellowship that’s not offered in your area.
If you’re willing or expecting to move somewhere new, you’ll want to:
- Learn about medical employers — clinics and hospital systems — in the area
- Reach out to recruiters and hiring managers on LinkedIn (more on that below)
- Attend local medical job fairs (more on that below)
- Budget your time-off allowance for interview-related travel
3. Think About Your Scope of Practice
You can weed out a lot of open positions simply by setting out your desired scope of practice and eliminating jobs that don’t check all the boxes. The scope of practice criteria includes, but is not limited to:
- Patient Age. If you’re not in an age-restricted specialty (pediatrics, geriatrics), do you want to see children, adults, and elders? Or just children? Or only adults and elders?
- Patient Demographics. Do you want to provide care primarily for low-income or otherwise marginalized patients, or do you prefer a more upscale clientele with adequate insurance or the means to pay out of pocket for care? Your specialty and preferred practice model will inform your considerations here — for instance, in direct primary care, you’ll only accept patients who can afford to pay out of pocket.
- Conditions and Procedures. Would you like your practice to cover as wide a range of conditions and procedures as you’re qualified to treat and perform, or do you prefer a narrower aperture? If the former, you’ll need to choose an employer with adequate facilities and support staff. If the latter, you’ll naturally limit your search to employers looking to fill a specific need.
4. Identify Your Desired Salary and Benefits
You might be willing to take a pay cut for the right job, but don’t foreclose higher-paying options just yet. Use a reliable, data-rich resource like Glassdoor to get a general sense of what local medical employers pay early-career physicians in your specialty, then talk to recent graduates of your residency for more specific details about pay and benefits. My wife learned a lot from her conversations with former colleagues who’d interviewed at or accepted offers with employers she was interested in pursuing; she crossed a couple off the list on the basis of these conversations alone.
Most physician job postings omit salary details, leaving them for negotiation behind closed doors. Recruiter outreach tends to be more forward — my wife received countless pieces of mail from recruiters detailing starting pay, bonuses, and benefits. So, keep digital and analog recruiting materials for reference during the early stages of your job search. As a general rule, rural health systems typically pay physicians higher starting salaries and may offer juicier benefits as well.
5. Look for Organizations Whose Mission and Values Align With Your Own
An optimal scope of practice isn’t the only measure of employer-employee fit. You want to feel good about coming into work every day — not feel like your talent and hard work supports an organization whose values and mission differ from your own.
As an example: my wife limited her search mainly to nonprofit health systems serving patients without insurance, and eventually accepted a position with a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) chartered to provide primary care to underserved populations. Your calculus may be entirely different. For example, many direct primary care providers value their model’s tendency to empower patients and support long-term provider-patient relationships relative to higher-volume care settings.
6. Learn More About Your Potential Future Colleagues
You can and should read anonymous reviews on Glassdoor and consult more experienced peers and mentors about the work environment at each employer you’re seriously considering.
However, don’t chat up current employees once you’ve formally begun the interview process. If you’re found out, you can kiss that opportunity goodbye.
The best way to learn more about your potential future colleagues, including management and support staff, is to shadow a provider for a half or full day. Shadowing is often offered as part of a multistep interview (see below), but you should push for it if it’s not. While shadowing, look for clues as to how the organization is run.
7. Investigate Organizational Culture
Shadowing offers another benefit: an up-close look at the organization’s culture. During the course of your interview, you’ll hear a lot about organizational values, but let’s face it — corporate value statements, however well-intentioned, are usually so much pablum. Use your own judgment to determine whether:
- Medical and support staff seem happy and fulfilled in their jobs
- Individual staffers and departments communicate well
- Patient care is the organization’s top priority
- Management hears lower-level employees’ concerns
- Caregivers have reasonable autonomy to practice as they see fit
8. Think About Your Preferred Pay Structure and Incentives
You probably can’t convince a prospective employer to rework its pay structure and performance metrics on your account alone, but you can certainly weed out employers whose pay models are aversive. Consider:
- Expected Production. How many patients are you expected to see each day? How many procedures are you expected to perform in a week or month?
- Production-Based Pay. How does your production affect your pay? Are you paid per service, or paid your full salary only if you meet your production quotas? Are you paid more for exceeding your production quotas, or for performing certain types of procedures?
- Production-Based Performance Evaluation. Does failure to meet production quotas reflect negatively on your performance?
You probably can’t avoid production quotas and may struggle to find employers that don’t tie pay to production in some form. However, if you’d prefer not to feel pressure to perform higher-margin procedures or cram inordinate numbers of office visits into a single clinic day, you’ll want to limit your search to more laid-back employers.
9. Decide Whether You Want to Teach, and How
How do you feel about teaching medical students and residents? If you feel really strongly about imparting your knowledge to the next generation of providers, you’ll probably seek out a residency faculty position that requires you to spend the bulk of your time supervising residents in hospitals or clinic settings — leaving perhaps just one day per week to build your own patient practice.
Teaching isn’t always a most-or-nothing proposition. Many health systems and independent clinics accept medical students from time to time, particularly systems and clinics with unusual or specific practice areas. For instance, my wife regularly supervises medical students interested in working with underserved patient populations.
Investigate how prospective employers handle these provider-student relationships or ask during your interview if you can’t find out beforehand. A residency colleague of my wife was miffed to learn that, apparently for liability reasons, she could only supervise medical students from two local medical schools — after she’d informally promised a friend attending an unaffiliated school that she could shadow her.
10. Determine Your Tolerance or Preference for Travel
You might not be able to avoid a long commute, but you can probably choose an employer that doesn’t require you to travel to far-flung clinics and hospitals. On the other hand, if maximizing your compensation or professional stature matter more than dinner at home every night, you may happily accept a job that keeps you on the road.
Onerous travel requirements are more common in sought-after specialties, especially in rural areas. My wife spent two years of medical school at the main hospital in a sparsely populated rural region; the surgeons she worked with all had admitting privileges at two or three other hospitals “nearby” — meaning two hours each way, in some cases.
11. Decide Where You Want to Practice
Many physicians split their time between the hospital, the clinic, and outpatient care facilities such as urgent care and day surgery centers. If you prefer one setting over another or have a particular aversion to one, you’ll want to weed out positions without the requisite practice mix.
In some specialties or roles, hospital work may be difficult to avoid. For instance, residency faculty and OB/GYN practitioners spend significant amounts of time in inpatient settings. Call requirements vary by specialty and role, as well. My wife took an all-clinic job in part to avoid overnight call; her residency colleagues who’ve gone into OB/GYN routinely dash to the hospital for midnight deliveries.
12. Look for Additional Incentives
As I said up top, physicians are in high demand, and employers are willing to bend quite a bit to attract qualified practitioners.
Look for positions that offer incentives beyond above-market starting salaries and generous benefits. Some rural health systems pay stipends to residents who commit to a period of post-residency employment; my wife received at least one such offer from a recruiter — although it wasn’t enough to convince her. Staff-strapped medical systems routinely pay signing bonuses, as well. These are quite common and surprisingly generous in surgical specialties.
Interview Process, Questions, and Strategies
Here’s what you should expect from the interview process — and how to prepare.
1. Recruiting and Initial Contact
Your likely first point of contact at a prospective employer will be either a recruiter (internal or third party) or hiring manager. You’ll want to have a relatively brief, casual conversation with this person about the position, covering:
- The position’s title and general responsibilities
- The location and travel requirements — recruiters commonly work across state lines
- The need or gap the employer is looking to fill
- The job’s practice setting (clinic, hospital) and scope of practice
- Compensation and benefits — at this point, your contact may only provide a base salary or general range
Depending on the circumstances and your physical location, this conversation may occur at a job fair, by phone, over Skype, or by a messaging app such as LinkedIn.
The recruiter or manager you talk to already knows you meet the minimum criteria necessary for consideration, or else they wouldn’t have reached out in the first place, so the likely outcome of this call is an offer to formally apply for the position.
2. Interview Procedure: Rounds and Strategy
The physician interview process typically involves three or four discrete rounds, often — although not always — in this order:
- Department Head Interview. The first round typically matches the candidate with the head of the department to which they’re applying. If you’re applying for a job as a staff radiologist, for instance, you’ll first interview with the head of radiology. In smaller practices without distinct medical departments, the organization’s medical director or managing partner might lead this interview. In either case, the conversation will focus on the position’s practical parameters and your medical background.
- Practice Visits. Next, you’ll be invited to tour your potential workplace. Depending on the nature of the employer or position, these facilities might include outpatient clinics, outpatient surgery centers, urgent care facilities, or inpatient hospitals. This is your opportunity to see up close how the organization functions, how its employees work together, and what its facilities are like.
- HR Meeting. At some point, you’ll be invited to sit down with a representative from the organization’s HR department to discuss pay and benefits. Department heads and senior management may be involved in this conversation too. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions regarding HR-related matters and review any materials you receive off-site.
- Executive Interview. Your final interview will involve the most senior employee involved in your hiring — usually the organization’s medical director, head of HR, or a C-level executive in charge of hiring. Others may attend as well. This is your opportunity to negotiate pay and benefits. Plus, you’ll be able to ask any final questions and voice any remaining concerns.
3. Typical Interview Questions
Physician interviews aren’t always extremely formal or adversarial affairs. Many of my wife’s interviews were collegial — even laid-back — with few structured questions. However, always come prepared to answer queries like:
- Why Did You Choose to Go Into Medicine? This is your chance to talk about the personal values you bring to your practice, and how they align with your prospective employer’s.
- How and Why Did You Choose Your Specialty or Subspecialty? Here, you can talk about the challenges associated with a particularly intense specialty or the patient-centric philosophy you bring to a primary care discipline, among many other possibilities.
- Why Are You a Good Fit for Our Organization? This is your chance to show off your preparation. How much of what you’ve learned about the organization thus far are you ready to share?
- What Strengths and Skills Do You Bring? This is an opportunity to talk in more specific terms about your skills as a practitioner, and about any unique or sought-after capabilities you can bring to the organization. For instance, you might be certified in a particular procedure that no one else at the clinic is equipped to perform.
- How Do You Perform Under Pressure? On Deadlines? This is a standard job interview question, but it’s especially relevant for time-strapped medical practitioners.
- What Do You Want to Get Out of Your Practice Here? This is another way of asking why you’re a good fit for the organization, and another chance to reinforce your practice philosophy.
- Why Are You Qualified to Teach or Supervise? If you’re applying for a faculty position or one that requires regular supervision of medical students, be prepared to answer this.
- Where Else Are You Interviewing? Don’t be surprised if you’re asked where else you’re interviewing. Your best bet is to be coy, but not dismissive: “I’m weighing several other options,” perhaps.
- Where Do You See Yourself in Five to 10 Years? This is another standard-issue interview question. Use it to show your commitment to the organization and your own career.
- What Questions Do You Have? In most of her interviews, my wife spent more time asking questions of her own than fielding queries. Your research and prior interview rounds should generate plenty of fodder, but you’ll want to have a few general queries ready just in case.
Tips for a More Productive Medical Job Search
Use these tips and tricks to make your medical job search more productive and increase your chances of landing the position you want.
1. Begin Your Search Early
It’s never too early to get the lay of the land. My wife began the process in medical school — researching health systems in the city we expected to move to for her residency; it’s more common for second-year residents to begin researching their options in earnest. Besides, if you’re willing to commit to a position before you leave residency, you may qualify for an annual stipend that augments your comparatively meager residency salary.
2. Attend Every Job Fair You Can
Nothing beats face-to-face conversations with health system recruiters and hiring managers, and there’s no more effective setting for it than a physician job fair. Attend every reasonably close job fair you can, even if it means losing a free evening or weekend day during residency.
Bring your partner or spouse with you if they’re available. The fair I attended with my wife was eye-opening, and it was great to debrief together afterward. My wife walked onto the job fair floor with a dozen or more potential employers in mind. By the time it was over, she was down to just a handful.
Pro tip: Job websites like Ziprecruiter also have thousands of available physician jobs.
3. Consider Every Possibility
Don’t write off potential employers arbitrarily. To start, there’s no harm in thoroughly researching every medical employer with open physician positions — it’s worth spending a little extra time to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
My wife realized only after accepting her current position that she’d missed a similar opportunity with another local FQHC. She’s quite happy with her employer, but she would have preferred to consider the one she missed in due course as well.
4. Network With Recruiters Online and in the Real World
Job fairs aren’t the only venues for medical networking. During her job search, my wife spent most mornings sifting through LinkedIn messages from health system recruiters, and we reserved desk space in our home office for an ever-expanding pile of mailers from out-of-town employers. Although she didn’t do much with the out-of-town mailers once we decided we wouldn’t be moving, my wife got several legitimate leads — and landed interviews — out of her LinkedIn interfacing.
You should also work your residency network to learn who’s hiring. Several of my wife’s residency colleagues got tips from plugged-in faculty.
5. Use Private and Public Resources to Find Under-the-Radar Listings
Use industry- and specialty-exclusive resources to find relevant job postings that might not appear on general-purpose job boards, manifest at local job fairs, or filter through the residency grapevine.
Residents at my wife’s family medicine program used the American Academy of Family Physicians’ secure CareerLink database, for instance. Other medical specialty associations may have comparable job postings. My wife also used the HRSA Workforce Connector to find public service medical jobs; your specialty and preferred practice scope will dictate which job search resources, if any, are appropriate.
6. Practice the Interview
You wouldn’t have made it this far if you weren’t reasonably good at interviewing, but it’s probably been a couple of years since you really had to exercise your skills in a formal, face-to-face setting. Practicing before each interview — using the sample questions above, for starters — costs you nothing. If time allows, debrief with your faculty advisor or mentor after each interview, and incorporate what you learned into future prep sessions.
7. Always Negotiate Your Salary
Private health systems — whether for-profit or nonprofit — typically make some allowance for physician salary negotiations. How hard you want to push depends on what you know about a practitioner’s actual compensation or candidates’ salary offers — current and past residency colleagues are good resources for this information. Negotiating points might include:
- Particular competencies or skills you bring to the practice — for instance, if you’re licensed for an in-demand treatment or procedure
- Your willingness to compromise on your work schedule — for instance, on-call hours or manning the clinic some evenings
- Your prior experience, if any
- Non-medical credentials, if any — for instance, you might have a Master of Public Health or MBA
Do try to read the room, though. At my wife’s residency, rumor had it that one particular local health system held primary care candidates to a strict “no negotiation” policy, eliminating prospects who tried to negotiate from consideration.
8. Negotiate Benefits, Responsibilities, and Working Environment Too
Don’t end the negotiation once you’ve arrived at a mutually agreeable salary. Your benefits package, job responsibilities, and working environment are all up for negotiation — to some extent, at least. Items worth discussing include:
- Relocation Expenses. If you need to move more than 50 miles to take the job, your employer may pay you a lump sum or authorized line-item reimbursements related to the move.
- Call Hours and Frequency. You probably can’t do away with call altogether, but if you’re willing to make concessions elsewhere, your employer may be willing to accommodate a lighter or more family-friendly call schedule.
- Your Office or Workstation. Much to her chagrin, a residency colleague of my wife’s learned that an employee hired six months after her successfully negotiated his own office. She might technically be his senior, but she’s still stuck in a shared cube.
- Start Date. Some employers are more flexible on this point than others. My wife was able to negotiate a start date several weeks after her official hiring date — and from what she’s heard, this isn’t atypical.
- Benefits. Depending on the employer, your benefits package may be fairly customizable anyway. You’re most likely to have more negotiating leeway around paid time off.
9. Don’t Feel Obligated to Continue the Interview Process for Poor-Fit Jobs
Don’t waste your time once you’ve determined that you’re not a good fit for the position. Just be sure not to burn any bridges; politely but firmly declining invitations to continue the interview process preserves your options should you decide at some future date to apply for another open position with the same organization.
10. Don’t Settle
After years of preparation and months of actively searching and interviewing, my wife found a job that matched perfectly with her skills, values, and practice preferences. With patience, there’s no reason you can’t do the same.
Staying committed to finding the right fit may be difficult. However, when you land the right job — and negotiate the best benefits package — you’ll be glad you decided not to settle. The benefits of doing your due diligence to find the best possible opportunity far outweigh the time and effort it will require of you.
Remember, landing a job is only the beginning. Once you’ve accepted a job offer with a new medical employer, it’s time to begin preparing for your first day on the job — a process that can generate nearly as much stress as the job search itself. After all, you only get one chance to make a first impression. It’s up to you to make that impression count.
Are you looking for a job as a physician? What’s the best advice you’ve gotten so far?