Last year, the American Medical Association reported that, for the first time, employed physicians outnumbered independent practice owners. Behind the trend toward hospital employment are a number of factors, including the regulatory and bureaucratic difficulties associated with owning a medical practice. No matter the reason, whether you’re applying for your first job out of residency or looking for a new job midway through your career, you may be seeking hospital employment.
Assuming you’re in a hospital-based specialty, you have to think carefully about whether you’ll be a good fit for this clinical environment. As you search for and apply to jobs, consider the following qualities that a hospital will be looking for in any successful candidate.
1. Communication Skills
When you’re working in a hospital, most of your days will be spent communicating with a wide variety of parties, from physician colleagues, nurses and support staff to hospitalized patients and their families. Unlike with a smaller practice, you’ll be working in a large organization that may involve hundreds of interactions every day. You and your colleagues will also be on a level playing field; you can’t view yourself as the “boss” all the time.
During your interview, show that you’re a physician who is used to communicating with others. You also want to demonstrate that, above all else, your patient communication skills are top-notch — you’re an excellent listener who shows empathy. And don’t forget: The interview conversation itself is a great showcase for your communication skills.
2. Willingness to Collaborate
In addition to having strong communication skills, you must be a solid team player. In the hospital, you’re not an independent physician who can create your own schedule and see only your own patients. You’ll be working in a group, maybe for the first time, and you’ll need to coordinate everything with your colleagues, from patient transfers to when you schedule vacation time.
This will obviously involve being flexible and making sacrifices at times — your daily schedule and time off won’t always be your first choice anymore. Many doctors who are used to smaller group practices struggle with this new reality when they start working for a hospital. It’s simply not possible to be the lone ranger anymore.
3. Ability to Handle Stress
Hospitals are hectic and fast-paced environments. You’ll be getting pulled in multiple directions at once and have to deal with frequent unexpected developments. Giving the impression of being a calm and measured person will score major points with any future employer. This is something that comes with time to most practicing physicians: You realize that medicine is, by nature, a completely unpredictable environment.
“Organized chaos” may be another good term to describe working in healthcare. You can’t have a fixed daily schedule. Your day could be running like clockwork, and then you get paged with a crashing patient. You could have had 10 great interactions, and then a family member yells at you because of something that seems trivial, like a bad meal for their loved one. Anticipating and expecting this to be the reality of working on the front lines of healthcare helps you handle the inevitable stress. You do your best, prioritizing the urgent situations and anticipating the worst. If you lose your composure or your temper in an employment setting, it will quickly filter up to your supervisors.
4. Desire to Improve the System
Hospital practice, in any specialty, is a work in progress. Protocols are constantly being developed and quality improvement is a must. You need to be willing to throw yourself into this and not be a physician in your own “practice box.”
The hospital administration wants and expects you to participate in these measures. They also expect you to show an understanding that resources are limited and finances are tight (which is the case across the board in healthcare). Be willing to sit in the occasional meeting and give your front-line perspective. The only way for the whole system to get better is for physicians to work closely with administrators.
5. Interest in Being Part of Something Bigger
This links to most of the above points and is something you should always keep in mind as an employed physician: You’ll have the institutional logo on your white coat. Be interested both in taking the whole organization up with you and being part of a journey.
Unlike working in private practice, hospital employment isn’t about a small group of people promoting their business. Your success is now every other professional’s success — from the nurses and pharmacists to the phlebotomists and housekeeping staff. You want to be proud of where you work and see yourself as part of an institution that’s committed to delivering excellent patient care across specialties.
Every time you meet someone outside of work, go to a medical conference or write an article, you’re now representing something much larger than yourself.