Using Digital Networking to Propel the Physician Job Search

Career Resources articles posted on NEJM CareerCenter are produced by freelance health care writers as an advertising service of the publishing division of the Massachusetts Medical Society and should not be construed as coming from the New England Journal of Medicine, nor do they represent the views of the New England Journal of Medicine or the Massachusetts Medical Society.

Online job searching and professional networking call for coherent strategies that will present a prospective candidate in the best possible light. Selection of appropriate digital resources, discretionary use of indirect networking, and detailed knowledge of prospective employers are requisites for a successful search. In line with the core physician competency of professionalism, the use of mobile devices, social media, and the management of information flow necessitate respectful, personalized, and timely interactions.
John A. Fromson, M.D.

Strategies to effectively network, explore, and manage the job search professionally are essential to prevent information overload and to ensure successful job placement.

By Bonnie Darves
Physicians looking for a practice opportunity in the fast-evolving digital age will find that it’s much easier to get information than it used to be. Prospective hiring organizations, potential colleagues, and even the medical-services marketplace and competitive environment in geographic areas of interest are all readily accessible. With a little extra e-digging, tech-savvy physicians who persist might even be able to get the inside scoop on hospital or health system physician politics, finances, or public image —information that might ultimately influence their job choice.  

However, it cuts both ways. Organizations seeking physicians to join their practice or augment their medical staff are getting savvy at checking out potential candidates long before they extend the offer of an on-site interview, and possibly even before an introductory phone conversation occurs. The physician with a sloppy, unprofessional online presence or an ostensibly haphazard approach to their job search could end up losing out on good opportunities before starting the search in earnest.

What this means in the current fast-paced job-search environment is that it’s equally important for opportunity-seeking physicians and hiring entities to use the digital tools at their disposal strategically and efficiently. If the mutual objective is to find a good professional fit, it is essential physicians create an optimal online presence and tap into expanded digital networking opportunities.

“Times have definitely changed in how physicians looking for practice opportunities use communication in the digital era,” said Allan Cacanindin, the senior executive vice president of client services at Cejka Search in St. Louis, an expert in the area of digital networking in physician job search. “What we’re seeing is that physicians want their information about practice opportunities — and they want it now. Candidates are also doing a lot more research than they used to, on health care organizations and practices, and much more indirect networking.” In the realm of LinkedIn and other business-focused professional networking sites, he explained, it’s becoming increasingly common for physicians to be introduced digitally — often indirectly, these days — to a physician, recruiter, or even a potential colleague who is willing to offer guidance.

“It used to be who you know, but now, there is much more indirect networking going on — with physicians being introduced digitally to someone in another physician’s network, or to a practice opportunity they didn’t know about,” Mr. Cacanindin explained.

In addition, physicians who are exploring opportunities are being more strategic in using electronic communication and networking to seek answers to perennial job-networking questions like: Who do you know at X organization? What have you heard about X practice or the physician political climate in X hospital? Or, for example, where is the best place in the Chicago area to practice surgical oncology?

This somewhat haphazard, random movement of information and the rapidity with which physicians can explore workplaces or potential opportunities is putting increasing pressure on health care organizations seeking top physician talent. In a period characterized by physician under-supply in many specialties, organizations must try to stay one step ahead of the game and also maintain an active physician-friendly presence on their websites and online. “I think that organizations sometimes fail to understand that physicians are consumers, too, and that most are going to do some homework and networking before they consider an opportunity,” Mr. Cacanindin said.

On the other side of that fence, health care organizations are expecting job-seeking physicians to be reasonably well-informed when they express interest in an opportunity in their group, facility, or health system, Regina Levison, president of the national firm Levison Search Associates, advises. “If you are receiving emails or invitations about an opportunity from search firms or in-house recruiters, take the time to at least check out the organization before you respond,” Ms. Levison said. “We do that before we present a candidate, so we expect that the physician will do the same.”

Navigating a changing landscape

Avenues for connecting and exploring the practice options appear just about infinite now, with the increasing use of social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter by both job-seeking physicians and recruiters and entities seeking to connect with potential candidates. The Mayo Clinic Healthcare Social Media list, for example, indicates that more than 1,500 U.S. hospitals now have an active social media presence on sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter. Many of these organizations devote some of that activity to electronically source candidates and promote practice opportunities.

The annual social media and mobile device survey conducted by ANM Healthcare, the parent of the national physician search firm Merritt Hawkins, found that 41% of physicians use mobile devices to access job and industry-related information, up from 21% three years ago.

“Digital technologies have completely changed the way physicians search for and apply for jobs,” said Miranda Grace, the physician recruiter at Lewiston Hospital in Lewiston, Pennsylvania. “Because they’re constantly on the go, their job search must be as well.” For that reason, many organizations now make job postings accessible on smart phones and tablets, Ms. Grace observes, and some are using QR codes to link physician candidates to their jobs or a recruiter’s contact information.

What are young job-seeking physicians expecting these days in way of digital technology usage by prospective hiring organizations? Besides being given the red carpet treatment because of the current demand for many physician specialties, physicians also expect to receive opportunity details and a rapid response to their expressed interest.

Marci Jackson, MA, physician recruitment manager at Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin, the country’s largest private medical practice, knows well the challenges meeting prospective candidates’ expectations in this virtual-whirlwind environment. “Younger physicians expect to receive most information electronically. They want access to information 24/7,” Ms. Jackson notes, “so our recruitment information [must be] out on the Internet in various forms.”

Marshfield maintains a presence not only on job boards with links back to the clinic’s website and online applications, but also on LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, and Twitter.  And until a physician has “absolutely expressed interest,” Ms. Jackson adds, “all communication is usually electronic.”

Managing digital-information flow challenging
If all of this wireless wooing sounds like a bonanza for the job-seeking physician, it is. But therein lies the flip side: staying on top of and managing the communication trails can be daunting. That’s where a well-defined strategy is helpful and forethought essential, according to Tommy Bohannon, divisional vice president of recruiting for Merritt Hawkins. “The digital information flow makes things more convenient for physicians — they can obtain details on a broad range of jobs instantaneously, and they can review that information in between patients or while they’re on the train,” Mr. Bohannon said. “But it also means that physicians might receive a thousand text messages or emails a week if they don’t narrow their parameters and proactively manage the information flow.”

To tailor the job search and reduce information overload, it’s advisable to set up a separate email account just for the related activity, both Mr. Bohannon and Mr. Cacanindin advised, and to create structured, well-written, and error-free boilerplate initial responses that can be sent out quickly and customized appropriately. It’s also smart to develop a list of initial questions about the issues or parameters that are especially important to the physician, such as amount of call, schedule structures, or employment or compensation models, for example, and to pose those early on in the communication.  

“This new age of digital technology enables physicians to cast a much wider net for practice opportunities — well, a worldwide net,” said Lori Norris, a senior physician recruiter at Dignity Health’s Chandler Regional Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona. “With a click, tap, or voice command they can send their CVs to every potential employer, recruiter, or practice in their desired location. This is great for the candidate, but sometimes not so great for the groups or employers who are trying to recruit that candidate.” For example, it’s entirely possible, Ms. Norris notes, that competing groups in the same city might all be vying for the same candidate because most physicians truly are shopping around these days — and that digital information flow makes it apparent that’s happening. That might not sit well with some prospective employers, when they discover that they’re “being shopped,” but it’s a reality and it doesn’t reflect poorly on the physician. Physicians’ responsibility, in such situations, is to behave as graciously as possible while obtaining enough detail to start narrowing the field — and then drop out of the running reasonably quickly for any opportunity they won’t pursue.  
All of this suggests that physicians looking for a practice opportunity would be wise to try to put themselves in recruiters’ shoes as they move around digitally, to avoid putting people to a lot of trouble about an opportunity in which the physician isn’t really interested. It’s just common courtesy, Mr. Bohannon stressed, to narrow the initial field by indicating the must-meet parameters — whether that’s geography or a desired subspecialty practice focus, or both. He cites a recent example of how not to proceed in this regard. “We occasionally see physicians who see 25 jobs in their field posted on our website, and check all of the boxes indicating they would like more detail on the opportunity,” he said, “when it’s unlikely they’re truly interested in all of those opportunities. That’s not an effective way to gather information.”
Besides annoying the individual who must sort through all of those “clicks,” physicians who use “select-all” approach risk giving the impression that they have no idea what they want. “It’s much more effective to choose five or six opportunities to explore completely,” Mr. Bohannon advised, “and plan on getting on a plane to look at three of them.”

It’s also important to respond cordially, quickly and reasonably completely to anyone who sends details electronically of an opportunity that the physician is likely to pursue, all sources interviewed for this article concurred. For example, rather than simply firing off a text or email stating, “Please send more details,” list some of the details sought and indicate when it would be convenient for a recruiter to call to discuss the opportunity. “If I have six responses in my inbox in the morning, and five say ‘send more details,’ and one says ‘this sounds like a good fit for me, and I’d like more details. Please call me at 5 p.m. Monday,’ guess who I contact first?” Mr. Bohannon said.
Even in the digital era, professional standards and old-school conduct codes still apply. Those include acknowledging communications received — whether it’s a text message, email, or a phone call — about any opportunity in which the physician has expressed interest. Ideally, that’s within 24 to 48 hours of the communication, not a week or two later. And thanking anyone who helps out during the journey to finding a practice opportunity, either directly or indirectly by connecting the physician to another individual, is a must.

A word about networking etiquette is in order. Physicians who behave in a self-centered manner when they network, by asking individuals for help or advice and then effectively “disappearing” until the next time they ask for help, risk offending their connections, several sources warned. “Take the time to thank the people who help you, and keep them in the loop as you continue or conclude your search,” Mr. Cacanindin said. For example, after sending the initial thank-you note, let the individual know down the road if the connection facilitated led to an interesting conversation or a site interview, or a job offer.

Finally, in part because the high demand for their services, some physicians take a somewhat cavalier attitude about responding to recruiters who email, text, or call about the opportunity the physician expressed interest in. “Even though the supply-and-demand situation is in the physician’s favor, it’s important to remember that if the job sounds good to you, it likely does to other qualified physicians as well,” Mr. Bohannon said.

Kaitlin Olson, a social media marketing specialist at HealtheCareers, describes some of the digital networking practices she sees physicians use now that, in her view, provide potentially fruitful support for an effective first, or subsequent job search. “Many young physicians are really staying up to date with their connections, especially with so many social channels available now on LinkedIn. Many are also using Facebook and Twitter not just to make connections but also to follow industry thought leaders — and some are becoming thought leaders on their own,” reported Ms. Olson, who spends considerable time daily monitoring social media activity in the physician-recruiting and opportunity-search realms. “Physicians appear to be using social media not only for networking but also to build their brand and [plot] their careers, and that’s helpful when they are looking for practice opportunities.”

Tips for using digital networking effectively
Avoid relying primarily on 100-word blurbs or catchy push emails to start narrowing the field, Mr. Bohannon cautions. “The downside of the digital transformation is that it has somewhat dehumanized the environment. Reading three-paragraph blurbs doesn’t give physicians a complete picture of the opportunity,” he said. “Looking for a practice opportunity should be a “high-touch” activity too, so physicians should do themselves the service of seeking first-source information about the opportunity through a phone conversation.”

  • Before starting to network, ensure that your CV is complete, well-written, error free, and accompanied by a professional photo. Using digital tools to launch the CV is easy to do, but once it’s out there in cyberspace it can be nearly impossible to rectify an error — and very difficult to “pull it back.”
  • Optimize online profiles on social media sites such as LinkedIn, and Ozmosis, and refresh them occasionally to let colleagues and potential hiring organizations know of new career developments.
  • Don’t post your CV everywhere, indiscriminately, or indicate interest in opportunities if it’s not genuine. Doing so, Mr. Cacanindin explained, could make it appear that the physician is either not confident, or, worse, a bit desperate, even if neither is the case.
  • Act like a consumer and do research before you start networking about or communicating electronically with organizations you might be interested in joining. Look at their website and read local (and national, if applicable) coverage on the entity. Recruiters certainly do that before they introduce a potential opportunity to a prospective candidate.
  • Conduct an online search on yourself, using Google and other search engines, regularly, to see what shows up. Physicians are sometimes unpleasantly surprised to discover that others have posted images or content that identifies the physician in an unfavorable light professionally. “Remember that whatever you’re seeing, the recruiters or potential hiring organizations are seeing too,” Ms. Levison said. And it goes without saying that anything that reflects poorly on a candidate and can be removed, or appropriately contested, should be.  
  • Be proactive about monitoring your presence on the physician-rating sites such as HealthGrades, RateMDs, and Vitals, and encouraging patients who’ve been pleased with your care to add a brief review. Even though physicians rightly claim that such venues aren’t necessarily “fair” or balanced, and that some reviews are inaccurate, top marks by patients may give candidates a slight edge in recruiting circles.
  • Steer clear of using any kind of digital communication, however friendly or well-intentioned, that might appear informal or unprofessional. Recruiters report, for example, that some physicians overuse emoticons such as smiley faces in their communications, or use text abbreviations in what should be formal correspondence about a practice opportunity. Neither is appropriate in the decidedly serious realm of job seeking.



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