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There's No Cure for a Sick Job

Katz, Barbara

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Ms. Katz is the president of the Katz Company, an emergency medicine consulting firm dedicated to providing expert physician recruitment services and training emergency medicine residents in effective job searching.

The perfect job doesn't exist, but many emergency physicians appear to be on a dedicated quest to find it. I hear from them almost every day. When I ask why they are searching for a job, I hear tales ranging from minor gripes to horrendous abuse from every conceivable kind of employer, and that includes those Meccas known as democratic private groups. It turns out that some sought-after partnerships can be just as ruthless and unfair as any of the national corporate employers were ever reputed to be. It seems there are a lot of sick jobs in emergency medicine.

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When trying to escape a bad job, the searcher is usually dedicated to the mandate of “get away from” instead of “go toward.” This places the focus on the past instead of where it should be — on future opportunity. A new job can't ever make up for the mistakes and abuses of past employers. What makes this situation even more difficult for these physicians is that most employers can read them a mile away. When a physician conducts a job search based on curing a negative experience, it results in a negative attitude that's clearly evident in interviews. Potential employers don't want to be saddled with the task of making up for ill treatment by past employers. Running an ED is tough enough!

The same theory can apply to graduating residents. Nearly 12 years of training can create a very tired doctor! A vacation may be in order, but some residents make the mistake of trying to make their first job fit their vacation dreams. It's job hunting with a “recovery head,” instead of a “career head:” “I'm looking for a job in Colorado because I love to ski.” Big mistake! Residency graduates need to focus on the future and the best first step for their careers, not making up for years of hard work and little sleep. This can mean seeking an environment completely different from residency so the learning experience can continue. The more limited the geographic and financial scope of a graduate's search, the more limited the job choices and the potential for career advancement.

When physician candidates focus on avoiding problems experienced in the past, they create a gun-shy point of view that seriously interferes with evaluating new positions. Negative experiences should be used as a learning and evaluation tool, not a barrier to new opportunity. Just because a compensation system, scheduling model, or protocol doesn't work in one environment doesn't mean it won't work elsewhere. It's crucial to analyze the problems that make a job intolerable. What are the internal and external factors responsible for creating each issue? What are the criteria that allow the problem to continue unchecked? If objectivity has become difficult, talking with a colleague in a successful job environment can be helpful. Understanding the origins of a sick job helps avoid catching the disease somewhere else!

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Focus on the Future

To be successful, job hunting needs to be a proactive process, not a reactive one. If you are one of these misused physicians, create a hazard list for yourself that contains every issue that is a catalyst for your job search. Use it as a guideline for evaluating potential opportunities. Don't immediately negate those opportunities that feature a few items on your hazard list without first discovering how they operate in the new environment. Before going on a site interview, arrange to do an in-depth phone interview with the department director.

Be honest about any hesitations you have with the opportunity being offered. Describing the results that a specific hazard item had for you is perfectly fine; it will provide an explanation for your hesitation. It must, however, be done in an objective, professional manner that demonstrates your willingness to move on without emotional baggage. Feel free to ask if they are experiencing any similar problems. Once you have all the facts, you can more comfortably make your decision about whether to interview for the opportunity.

Prospective employers are far more attracted to a positive, challenge-seeking attitude in a candidate. There is a time-honored rule for job hunters in all professions: Never speak ill of a past employer!

While it's nearly impossible to ignore the past, remember the future is what is important now, and it's time to let go and move on. When you are interviewing, don't take the victim position; it makes you appear weak. There's no loss of face in admitting you made a mistake and took the wrong job. “I had high expectations for that job, but I guess I didn't do enough research or ask the right questions.”

Turn that negative into a positive by being up front about your poor job choice. Show how you have learned from the experience by being detailed in your questions and doing your homework on the group, the department, and the hospital before you interview. (The hospital web site and the AHA Guide will give you a good start, as will the local Chamber of Commerce.) Asking targeted questions based on information you have gathered prior to initial contact is impressive, and shows your serious interest in a specific opportunity, and demonstrates your determination to make a smarter choice this time around.

Whatever your issues in the past, search for a job as Dr. Winner, not Dr. Whiiiiiner!

© 2006 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.

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