10 Tips for a Successful Job Search in Academic Medicine

Author: Michael A. Gisondi, MD (@MikeGisondi), Associate Professor and Vice Chair of Education, Stanford University School of Medicine

For the last three years, I have had the honor of giving one of my favorite lectures in the Resident Track at the CORD Academic Assembly: “Interview Skills & Contract Negotiation Advice for the Fellowship or Junior Faculty Applicant.” I’m grateful to the Resident Track Co-Chairs of #CORDAA17 — Mary Haas, Nick Governatori, and Sasha Tichter — for inviting me back again this year and for soliciting this blog post to summarize my lecture.


I generally organize this material as my 10 Tips for a Successful Job Search in Academic Medicine. Residents and fellows: use this post as a checklist of sorts. Consider the importance of each item to your individual situation and seek advice from trusted faculty mentors if you are unsure at any stage in the process.


#10:  The job search is not the Match.

In 2017, there were 191 ACGME-approved EM residency programs that offered a total of 2,047 entry-level positions in the Match. In comparison, when considering the academic job search, our senior trainees are seeking that one faculty openingat that one hospitalin the one available role that matches their scholarly interestsin the one city they have always wanted to call home. A targeted job search is inherently different than previous experiences as a student in the Match. Relationships, networking, and faculty recommendations become incredibly important in this process.


#9:  Be honest about what YOU want.

Academic positions often have specific administrative or research expectations that reflect current faculty needs. The same institution may have very different roles available one year to the next. Your ideal job should match your interests and skills.


dont.pngWrong answer in an interview: “Yes, Dr. Chair, I definitely would consider running your hyperbarics program. Really, I just love teaching residents and students in any capacity. I would happily take on any available administrative task in order to join your faculty.”


do.pngCorrect answer in an interview: “My five year plan is to become an assistant residency director. To be successful, I will need to develop skills in the following areas. [Insert those here!] Are there appropriate openings on the core faculty? Do you anticipate opportunities in residency leadership in the next five years?”


#8:  Prepare for 8-10 hours of interviews.

The interview day for a faculty position is long… much longer than an entry-level position in a non-academic practice. Prepare for a full day of hour-long interviews. Prepare your remarks and questions ahead of time in order to keep the conversation engaging for numerous, lengthy meetings with various faculty members. Ask for an itinerary ahead of your interview day, so that you know the names of your interviewers before you meet them. Search PubMed or Google Scholar to get a sense of the research interests of your interviewers.


#7:  It really is all about who you know.

We like to think that all hiring decisions are unbiased and merit-based, but this is simply not the case. Academic emergency medicine is a small world. Use your faculty mentors — especially the chair and program director – to make connections for you and to vet potential job offers. Get over your pride and play the game. Importantly, never list a faculty member as a reference without asking them first.


#6:  Honesty is always the best policy.

Be honest about what you want and what you can do. Express your weaknesses as faculty development needs that may be common among other junior faculty — and make sure that your potential employer agrees. You don’t want to be held to a standard that you are unprepared to meet. When considering multiple offers, describe your ideal timeline to prospective employers. Expect honesty in return. Work only for those you admire and trust.


#5:  Read a book about negotiation.

It is uncommon to read books about negotiation during medical training. However, those with managerial roles likely read leadership and business resources that describe negotiation skills. Therefore, new residency grads may be at a disadvantage when negotiating their first contract. Moreover, previous research suggests that women don’t aggressively negotiate and may receive suboptimal contracts. Prepare yourself ahead of your first negotiation. I recommend reading the following book (I have no financial relationship to the author): Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1000 in a Minute.


#4:  Understand what you need vs. what you want.

Though money is important, it should never be the only motivator when considering a job offer. In the long run, time and mentorship may be much more important. Opportunities to develop your skills as a researcher and educator are critical. Appropriate junior faculty development programs may be those at the local/institutional level that require your chair’s recommendation. Similarly, national meetings or graduate courses may necessitate time away and/or financial support from your chair. Be sure that you have autonomy in deciding which administrative and research projects you accept as a junior faculty member; projects should align with your career goals.


#3:  Everything is negotiable.

It is common for academic chairs to say that the standard university contract cannot be negotiated or amended. That is untrue. Everything can be negotiated – though not everything should be negotiated. Be prepared to walk away from a job offer that has deal-breakers that interfere with your family’s wellness, such as shift assignments to far away affiliate hospitals or clinical schedules that have primary night shifts.


#2:  Everyone needs a contract lawyer.

There is a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Similarly, you are a fool if you don’t have a lawyer review your faculty contract. New residency graduates are unlikely to be versed in the many nuances of contract law related to the practice of emergency medicine. Find an expert to help you. I recommend Bill Sullivan, JD, DO, an emergency physician in Illinois who specializes in contract review for physicians (again, I have no financial relationship to disclose.) He can be reached at the Law Office of William Sullivan at sullivanlaw@ureach.com.


#1:  The early bird gets the worm.

The academic job search has a slightly earlier timeline than that of community hospitals. Explore career options, find mentors, and prepare your CV/cover letter before your final year of training. If you plan on entering an ACGME-accredited fellowship, research the application timeline before submitting your materials through ERAS; each subspecialty has their own process. Send your CV to prospective chairs in July and expect to interview between August – November. Make sure to discuss all offers with your program director or faculty advisor before signing offer letters. Your lawyer should review your contract before you sign.


Good luck in your job search!

Mike Gisondi

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