Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

To medical residents

By Heidi Moawad

The completion of residency training is a time of key decisions. For residents, the assessment of several strong job options is a long-awaited reward after years of preparation. However, unlike the regimented and scheduled process of residency applications and interviews culminating in match day during the fourth year of medical school, the search for a job or fellowship is self-directed, individualized, and without a set end point or deadline. Your job quest might be the first application process in your career that does not involve a ‘click here to apply’ button.

young doctorsThis flexibility is both exciting and intimidating. As you decide what you want to do after residency, you will consider the obvious questions: Should I work in a private practice or an academic environment? What’s the best geographic location? What’s the best practice size for me? Should I find employment with an established physician or become self-employed?

You will also need to think about what your definition of moving forward in your career means. Do you aspire to become the most respected and sought after clinician? Do you aim to become a hospital wide leader and decision maker? Do you intend to become a researcher, focusing on clinical trials or basic science research in a laboratory environment? Do you wish to focus on public health to change the outcomes for a subset of patients?  

Like many doctors at this stage, you may look at some professional leadership positions and wonder: ‘What would I have to do to get there?’ Specialty training formally qualifies you for practice privileges, but there is no official qualification for some of the other interesting opportunities that you may aspire to. Who gets to become program director? Who becomes hospital CEO? Who will become a health policy leader? Who will edit professional journals? Who will write the board exam questions 20 years from now? Who will decide if new procedures are worthy of authorization and acceptance into standard care?

Residency training qualifies you to practice your specialty. But it doesn’t determine how you will practice your specialty or if you will become a leader within your specialty or within the whole field of medicine itself. In fact, most leaders in medicine carved their own paths. There are many roads to leadership and innovation. It is important to realize that no one will invite you to become a leader. Such roles do not happen by accident. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Leaders who aren’t afraid to forge a new road can move their professions in uncharted directions.

Applications for non-traditional positions are not accompanied by a conveniently placed ‘click here to apply’ button on a website. So if you want to take an innovative route, you will need to take steps to determine whether a non-traditional job or leadership position is right for you and learn how to get there. Your specialization and training only serve to open doors for you. Qualifications never close doors. You have a long professional future ahead of you and it is advantageous to gather information about your options and to use the most effective approaches to open doors for yourself. Your personal and professional goals are valid and worthy of your follow through. Medicine as a whole will benefit when caring doctors branch out into all areas of medicine to become leaders and to ensure quality and innovation.

Heidi Moawad M.D. is a neurologist and author of Careers Beyond Clinical Medicine, an instructional book for doctors who are looking for jobs in non-clinical fields. Read her previous blog posts.

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Image credit: group of young doctors and nurses in hospital. © michaeljung via iStockphoto.

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