The New Gastroenterologist

AGA Regional Practice Skills Workshops: New perspectives for young GI physicians


Medicine is an evolving field, and in this era of ever-changing medicine, physicians-in-training often lag behind in understanding the nuances of “real-world” medicine. From negotiating job contracts to understanding medical billing, coding systems, and performance metrics, physicians who are fresh out of training often feel ill prepared to deal with these issues that are rarely discussed during fellowship.

Front Row (from left): Dr. Natalie Cohen, Dr Rahman Nakshabendi, Dr. Maen Moh'd Masa'deh. Back row (from left): Dr. Jagpal Klair, Dr. Yazan Hasan, Dr. Adrian Holm, Dr. Benjamin Alsop, Dr. James Vancura, Dr. Nancy Gupta, Dr. Sumant Arora, Dr. Barakat Abura

The American Gastroenterological Association’s Regional Practice Skills Workshops are designed to fill this void and provide the tools necessary to navigate the challenging transition from training into practice. Since the first pilot workshops were held in 2014, AGA’s Trainee and Early Career Committee has been diligently working to expand the number of workshop sites so that more trainees can benefit from them. This year, workshops will be held in Columbus, Ohio (Feb. 24), and in Philadelphia (April 11). An exciting development in 2017 was the opportunity to live stream the event held at the University of California, Los Angeles, to Stanford (Calif.) University and the University of Iowa, Iowa City.

This aforementioned workshop at UCLA was divided into two sessions. The first was focused on “Practice Options,” with talks geared toward highlighting the different practice models available in the GI market, including positions in academia, private practice, and mixed environments.

William Chey, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, shared his experience as an academic gastroenterologist as well as his experience in managing a GI consulting firm. His advice to young gastroenterologists was to diversify. He suggested options such as working for pharmaceutical companies, being involved in drug trials, working in the innovation industry, and proactively seeking leadership positions in different organizations. V. Raman Muthusamy MD, AGAF, a clinical professor of medicine at UCLA, led the discussion with the million-dollar question: What is my net worth? He suggested doing some homework before negotiating one’s salary by visiting the Medical Group Management Association’s website. Having this information can provide a trainee with a head start in the negotiation process. Dr. Muthusamy recommended recalculating one’s net worth every 5 years and renegotiating your contract based on this information. In addition to possibly leading to a salary boost, such knowledge will render internal validation and boost self-confidence about one’s skill set. Keep in mind however, that checking this too often can be adversely distracting. Lynn S. Connolly, MD, also of UCLA brought to light the important fact that female gastroenterologists are often paid lower salaries than their male counterparts, even after adjusting for vacation time, practice type, and work hours. She urged female gastroenterologists not to undervalue themselves and avoid falling into this pitfall. Lin Chang, MD, a professor of medicine at UCLA, reinforced the need for young GI fellows to be passionate about the path they choose and to not make random choices or decisions based on convenience alone.

Gareth Dulai, MD, a gastroenterologist with Kaiser Permanente in Downey, CA, discussed the advantages of working in a big company, including salaries that are transparent and match the national average. One also does not have to worry about hiring staff and managing overhead costs. Martha Hierro, MD, who has been in private practice since fellowship, felt that a private group practice enables a higher salary potential and better flexibility with one’s schedule. Her group also has a pathology lab, research lab, and imaging center, which further augments the group’s earnings. The downsides to private practice, compared with bigger academic settings, include cumbersome negotiations with insurance companies and financial constraints when purchasing new technology. She advised young GI physicians to go through the partnership clause very carefully before joining any private practice. She recommended being prepared and fully informed before negotiating a contract, including speaking to other practicing gastroenterologists in the area about the earning potential in the practice. In the end, both speakers agreed that all types of practices have pros and cons and one can always move from one setting to another.

For young GI fellows who want to work as administrators, the common consensus among the panel members was that fellows should attend leadership courses at national meetings early in training and participate in the committees of national organizations like the AGA. Reaching out to educators and mentors is of key importance. Dr. Chey recommended that, when fellows are provided with an opportunity to work with a potential mentor, they should think it through before accepting the opportunity and, if they do accept it, make sure they finish the task in a timely manner.

The second session of the workshop was geared toward the interview process. James H. Tabibian, MD, PhD, of the University of California, Davis, shared some useful tips for job hunting. It is never too early to start the process of job hunting, and timing depends on the type of position one is seeking. For a competitive position, it may be best to start the process early. When looking for jobs, contact methods could include in-person encounters at national meetings, such as Digestive Disease Week, or through a mutual colleague or mentor. Emails to potential future employers should be succinct with an updated resume attached. Most importantly, make sure to follow up in a professional manner.

Dr. Connolly, who also spoke about interviewing, pointed out that one should always ask questions about the program and never offer any negative information about oneself. Discussing salary potential during an interview may not be perceived as a positive sign. One might ask the interviewer about what things the interviewer enjoys the most at work, what defines success in this position at the institution, what constitutes an ideal candidate for the program, and what is the growth plan for the program over the next 5-10 years. For subspecialty interviews, some questions that are good to ask include the volume of procedures done at the institute, what might a typical day for a fellow look like, where do fellows typically work after finishing, and how is the call schedule set up. In the end, look confident, be humble, and believe in yourself. You control how you are perceived.

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