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  • 5 Tips to Find Your Niche

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    A typical day for me may start with an early-morning pediatric cataract surgery, followed by clinic, coaching soccer practice, dinner and bedtime with the family, and often ends with a trail run with my dog in the foothills of the mountains near my house.

    I find fulfillment and challenge in each aspect of my unique setup, but how did I get here?

    Finding your niche in ophthalmology can seem daunting as a resident or fellow. Between studying for the Ophthalmic Knowledge Assessment Program (OKAP®) exam, memorizing white-dot syndromes, seeing late-night consults and preparing for surgeries, it may be difficult to take time to formalize what you are looking for in a career.

    I polled a group of YOs for their advice to residents trying to find their niche. Their advice follows:

    What Drives You?

    As a resident you will likely find aspects of many subspecialties that you enjoy. I was almost an oculoplastic surgeon, medical retina specialist and comprehensive cataract specialist before deciding on pediatric ophthalmology. Although there will be aspects of many specialties that you will enjoy, try to identify which aspects you really look forward to. I enjoyed many subspecialty rotations, but I found that I woke up excited for pediatric clinic and surgery in a way that I hadn’t been before.

    Another important aspect to think about is which challenging patient situations or clinical scenarios do you feel comfortable taking on with regularity? A pediatric retina exam may not be something you want to deal with regularly, but you may not mind managing complex ocular surface issues. You want to be excited about the good and comfortable with the difficult in your specialty of choice.

    Find an Honest Mentor

    Finding a mentor with whom you can discuss your thoughts and ask for advice is very helpful. You may find great advice from faculty members, senior residents or fellows and community ophthalmologists. Having regular conversations with your mentors can help you process the ups and downs of residency and help with connections as you pivot toward a fellowship and/or job search.

    Brad Henriksen, MD, with his family
    Bradley S. Henriksen, MD, with his family.

    In the End, You Need a Job

    Once you have identified a subspecialty of your choice, you will need to find a job. Depending on your subspecialty and market, this process may even start before you begin a fellowship.

    When it comes to finding your ideal job, you need to decide what core aspects of a job are most important to you. Making a list of basic elements (higher or average clinical volume, teaching, research, international opportunities, etc.) can help you evaluate opportunities that arise.

    Know the Market

    Where you work will be a major factor in your long-term enjoyment. Do you prefer a big city or access to the outdoors? Close proximity to family or social supports? If you have a region or market in mind, it is never too early to reach out to practices or institutions in the area to express interest and make connections.

    Be Creative and Flexible

    Once you have your non-negotiables in mind, being flexible with the details can help you find your spot in a practice or institution. Although you may think your career goals would traditionally push you toward academics or private practice, keeping an open mind will allow you to find the opportunity that best meets your interests.

    You may find a private practice opportunity that allows you to teach and do research or an academic position with high clinical volume and a focus on international outreach. If you maintain an open mind, you will often find that your core job values can be fulfilled in a variety of situations, allowing you to find your niche.

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    Bradley S. Henriksen, MDBradley S. Henriksen, MD, is a pediatric ophthalmologist at the Excel Eye Center in Provo, Utah. He joined the Academy in 2016.