6 post-residency career tips every new doctor needs to know

May 6th, 2024 8 Min read 6 post-residency career tips every new doctor needs to know Blog

Completion of a residency is a significant turning point for a new physician. The future you’ve worked so hard for is just a heartbeat away, and in this pivotal moment, you’ll need to make decisions that could have a lasting impact on your career. Here are six tips that can help you avoid common post-residency missteps and thrive in a job that will live up to the future you envisioned.

1. Don’t settle for the first thing that comes along

While no job is forever, it’s typically a long-term commitment. Many new physicians feel pressured to accept the first solid job offer that comes their way post-residency, even if it doesn’t meet their expectations. But taking that job could tie you to something that isn’t ideal for quite some time.

To avoid settling for second best, consider working locum tenens assignments while continuing to look for a job that checks the right boxes. And you never know — that temporary assignment could turn out to be the perfect match.

2. Take time to explore life post-residency

After his residency, Dr. Colin Zhu began his career working locum tenens positions so he could “date” different positions and practice settings. “I felt like I was able to figure out what type of healthcare professional I needed to be,” he explains. “You don’t know what fits you until you find something that works. You don’t know until you go out and try.”

Quote from Dr. Zhu about trying locum tenens work

Locum tenens lets you experiment with inpatient or outpatient settings, different work schedules, rural and urban settings, and various practice sizes, among other things — instead of making a long-term commitment that can leave you feeling disillusioned and burned out.

3. Don’t be afraid to negotiate

Hospitalist Dr. John Thieszen admits that asking for more money can be awkward. But he says those few moments of discomfort can pay off handsomely. “I felt very awkward asking for more money,” he recalls. “But in the 30 seconds I felt awkward asking about it, the hospital agreed to $20,000 as a sign-on bonus. That was the best 30 seconds of awkwardness I spent.”

Negotiating is “where some of the easiest money in the world is to be made,” says Dr. Thieszen. It never hurts to ask about things like an increased salary, sign-on bonuses, or a relocation allowance.

Quote from Dr. Thieszen about negotiating before signing a contract

Ask for what you want: A comprehensive guide to physician contract negotiation

4. Don’t sign the contract as is

Many newly minted physicians think the employment contract is merely a formality. However, it can contain some crucial provisions, like non-competition agreements and other post-employment restrictions. “The contract will more often than not come into play at some point,” says Dr. Thieszen.

“Even though a hospital is a big organization, you can negotiate these contracts,” he says. Dr. Thieszen recommends that any physician facing a new job opportunity hire an attorney to review the contract before signing it.

5. Don’t change your financial lifestyle too quickly

When the paychecks start coming in — after years of living a frugal student lifestyle — the temptation to spend it can be enormous. But White Coat Investor recommends continuing to “live like a resident” for as long as possible for several reasons: you can pay off your student loans faster, begin maxing out your contributions to a retirement plan, and amass a down payment on a home. The short-term sacrifice will pay off enormously down the road.

And if you don’t immediately tie yourself down with auto and home loans, you’ll have greater freedom to switch jobs if you find yourself in a less-than-ideal situation.

Increase your paycheck: How locum tenens pay and salary work for physicians

6. Have a back-up plan

Pediatrician Dr. Baraa Alrazzak thought he had a job lined up with the program where he completed his residency. “But there were some last-minute changes in the plan, and I found myself stuck,” he says. He knew securing a new position could take months. Luckily, he met a doctor who worked locum tenens for CompHealth, and he realized that working locum tenens would give him ample time to explore his options and move forward.

Even when the initial plan pans out, things might not be what they seem: One in two physicians switch jobs within five years of starting their first job. That high churn rate could be due to a disconnect between how the job was sold to the physician and what it turned out to be.

That’s why it’s essential to go into that first job post-residency with your eyes open, realizing that it is likely not your final destination but merely a stepping stone to new opportunities. Live frugally and save as much as you can — and remember that locum tenens work is a versatile backup plan that can keep you afloat as you chart your new course. Or it can even turn into your ultimate destination.

Click to download the six post-residency career tips for new physicians infographic:

Infographic of post-residency career tips for physicians

CompHealth can help you find your dream job after residency. Give us a call at 800.453.3030 or view today's physician job opportunities.


Heather Stewart

Heather Stewart is a journalist who frequently covers issues and trends in the healthcare industry.

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