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  • Tips on Landing Your First Job as an Ophthalmologist

    Jill Maher, MA, COE has assisted numerous ophthalmic practices with hiring and offers these essential tips for residents and fellows who are seeking to land their first physician contracts.

    Making the right decision can be a daunting task when assessing job opportunities. AAOE® reached out to Jill Maher, MA, COE, principal consultant and owner of Maher Medical Practice Consulting, to get her views on practice hiring and how it has changed during the pandemic. 

    Q: What has changed in the job search during the pandemic that residents and fellows need to be aware of?

    A: There is more competition now. Before the pandemic began, there was and still remains a shortage of ophthalmologists, but in the past, practices were lucky if they had one to two candidates to choose from. Now, those options have expanded, and many practices have three to five candidates, which also means the compensation offers may not be as robust as they were in 2019. The other aspect that has changed is the way in which candidates are being interviewed. There may be more phone and Zoom interviews before being invited for an on-site visit. The on-site visits may not include a dinner with all the physicians and spouses as in the past.

    Q: You’ve assisted many practices in hiring physicians. What are the essential first steps that everyone should take before beginning the search?

    A: Do your research. Gather as much information about the practice before visiting the practice. Google the practice and the physician names, and ask lots of questions.

    Q: What are top three tips that should be top of mind for those looking for their first job?

    A: These are my top three tips:

    1. Be professional with your communication and follow up within 48 hours when contacted by the practice.
    2. Understand what is expected of you if you were to accept the job offer by asking the right questions.
    3. Send thank you emails after each phone or in-person interview if you are really interested in the job. If you choose not to move forward in the interview process after visiting the practice, make sure you send an email explaining that you are no longer interested. Thank the practice for their time. You never want to burn bridges because you never know when your paths may cross again in the future.

    Q: What are the right questions to ask?

    A: Here are the top five questions that I would recommend asking:

    1. Who manages the practice?
    2. How many patients do you expect that I will see in my first year? Also follow up with: Where will those patients come from? Is a physician retiring/moving? Do I need to market my own services?
    3. What type of support staff will I have during clinic days? What does the call schedule look like?
    4. Where surgeries are conducted, and how many surgeries do you expect I will do in a week?
    5. How is partnership/ownership set-up? How might I qualify for partnership or equity within the practice?

    Q: Are there any particular pitfalls to be aware of?

    A: Here are a couple of things to think about:

    1. When providing professional references, make sure you ask your references first if they are willing to provide you with a positive reference. Never burn a bridge, because you never know when you need a colleague, attending, nurse or administrator to provide a reference for you.
    2. Don’t just accept a position because it offers the highest compensation. Make sure you understand the culture of the practice and your philosophy aligns with the other physicians. Don’t just focus on the salary. Review the entire offer, including benefits such as health insurance, dental insurance, malpractice, 401(k), vacation, etc. These benefits add up to tens of thousands of dollars.

    Q: What should you do once you receive a job offer?

    A: Ideally, once you receive a job offer or letter of understanding, respond within 24-48 hours with an email thanking the practice for the generous offer. If there are aspects you may want to negotiate, let them know that you need to review the offer and will respond within a week. Ask questions to clarify and determine the one to three priority items to negotiate. Sign the letter of understanding and return to the practice promptly. Once you receive the employment agreement, read the contract and have an adviser or attorney review it for you. If you need clarification, reach out to the practice immediately and then sign and deliver by the deadline.

    Choose just one to three aspects of the offer to negotiate. Make sure you are focused on your priorities and long-term goals. Do NOT negotiate on every aspect of the contract. Recently, a candidate was required to sign an employment agreement within 14 days; instead, she waited until the practice contacted her and asked for an increase in salary, then two weeks later, she asked for an increase in bonus, then two weeks later, she asked for a shorter noncompete, then she requested an increase in signing bonus. Overall, it took over three months before she signed the contract. Her future partners were not impressed. Remember that this is the beginning of a professional relationship with the practice, so make sure you are putting your best foot forward.

    Additional Resources:

    For more detailed information on this topic, check out these short videos by Jill Maher.

    About the Author:

    Jill Maher, MA, COE is the principal Consultant and owner of Maher Medical Practice Consulting located in Chicago. She consults with ophthalmic and other medical practices as well as teaching institutions. Maher has more than 25 years of experience in the health care industry working with Fortune 100 companies. She has extensive experience in sales management and national accounts, including more than 22 years with Wyeth, Johnson & Johnson and Allergan. Her background includes expertise in strategic planning, financial analysis, marketing and creating high-performance teams.