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Residents’ Forum
Lessons Learned in the Job Search
Psychiatric News
Volume 47 Number 7 page 9-9

As winter winds down and spring flowers begin to bloom, senior psychiatry residents enter the home stretch of training and are faced with the final challenge—deciding on their first job.

Having just navigated this process myself, I thought it would be helpful to share the experience with fellow members-in-training (MITs). It is important to do research, consider your personal values, and hone your negotiation skills in advance. With appropriate preparation, the job search can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Below is some advice that I offer to fellow MITs who are at the beginning of this process.

  • Do your homework.  Approach searching for a job as you would buying a new car. Just as you would never approach a car lot without reading Consumer Reports  and finding the Kelly Blue Book  value, it is crucial to find out realistic salaries and job expectations in advance. These can vary between geographic regions. Talk to psychiatrists in the area to determine a fair salary expectation and expectations for the specific job for which you are applying.

  • Update your resume.  For many physicians, the first job following residency may be the first nontraining employment that they have ever applied for. In today’s competitive job market, finding a way to highlight accomplishments, special skills, and training is key. Ask your training director or other senior faculty in your department to help if you are unsure how to put together an effective resume.

  • Money isn’t everything.  A job’s non-monetary benefits can be just as valuable as the salary. Clerical support, billing services, and protected time for teaching and research can be just as important as extra salary dollars.

  • Make a list.  It is important to determine your fundamental values prior to deciding on a position. Most of us have considerations that are not negotiable. For some, that may be a salary number high enough to repay loans and support a family. For others, it may be protected time to teach medical students. Decide what your values are and stick to them.

  • Know your worth.  Nothing kills job satisfaction like feeling undervalued. Many residents defeat themselves by failing to ask for what they are really worth. A variety of factors including institutional loyalty for academic positions, years of working for near minimum wage during residency, or simply being unaware of market salaries may contribute. I was advised to decide on the absolute lowest salary that I could live with, double it, and then be prepared to compromise. Asking for what you are worth demonstrates confidence, which can be very attractive to employers.

  • Help is available.  Physician locator services may be helpful and save time for individuals looking to relocate or who have work restrictions, such as visas. These services are easily found at most resident job fairs and meetings, and their representatives are always happy to help.

  • Support staff are your best friends.  Signing your contract is only the first step in starting your new job. Credentialing, getting signed up for insurance panels, and obtaining hospital privileges must happen before you can start seeing patients and getting paid. If your employer offers staff to assist with these tasks, accept the help. If not, hiring someone with experience in this area may greatly reduce stress and ensure that all of the paperwork is completed correctly the first time.

The transition from residency to early-career psychiatry is a complicated yet exciting time. As an organization, APA offers valuable support to its young members by continuing to help them through this process. Mentors can also be a great source of support and guidance through the process. APA’s local district branches and state associations can be a great place to find such mentors, and APA’s annual meeting next month in Philadelphia is another. With careful preparation, self-presentation, and a little bit of luck, it is possible to land your dream job directly out of residency. inline-graphic-1.gif

Sarah Johnson, M.D., is the member-in-training trustee on the APA Board of Trustees and a PGY-5 addiction psychiatry fellow at the University of Louisville.

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