Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of the Private Practice Perspectives column, which is a collaboration between the AGA’s The New Gastroenterologist and the Digestive Health Physicians Association (DHPA). In this issue’s column, David Ramsay (Winston Salem, N.C.) provides valuable advice on the very important topic of picking the right practice.
Bryson W. Katona, MD, PhD
Editor in Chief, The New Gastroenterologist
Just 7 years ago, I faced the same difficult decisions many new gastroenterologists have. Like many physicians coming out of a residency and fellowship program, I had loans to repay and family to consider when evaluating the choices about where I would practice.
Looking back, there were several essential questions that helped guide my decision-making process. If you are early in your career as a GI, here are some questions to ask yourself and tips that I’ve learned along the way that may help make the decision about which practice is right for you.
What do you want to do with your training and skills? This may sound obvious, but it’s important to align your interests with the right practice. Did you receive extra training in endoscopic procedures, such as endoscopic ultrasonography and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography? Do you want to specialize in inflammatory bowel disease? Have a passion for hepatology? Look for a practice that has those specific opportunities available to match your interests.
In addition, some GI docs want to pursue their interest in research. Keep in mind that many independent practices have research arms and offer physicians the opportunity to continue on this path.
Lastly, consider whether you want to be involved in the business of medicine or take on a leadership role. Many practices offer (and even encourage) those opportunities, and you can winnow down your list of practices based on whether they allow you to take on those roles.
Where do you want to live? My wife and I completed our residencies and fellowships in Washington, but when it came time to find a place to practice medicine, we knew we wanted to be near family. We narrowed our search to Tennessee, Florida, and North Carolina, where we eventually ended up.
Of course, wherever you decide to go is a personal choice. Some people prefer living on the coasts or want to reside in a major city. This might come as a surprise to some, but very often you will command a higher salary in rural areas or smaller cities, which are traditionally underserved by our profession. That starts to matter when you think about paying off your student loan debt.
What is the long-term potential of each position? This is perhaps the most important question to ask. Does your new practice offer ownership potential? Are there opportunities to share in the various (ancillary) revenue streams, such as an ambulatory surgery center, anesthesia, or pathology? How soon might you have the opportunity to buy in and what is the buy in structure and cost? What are the practice rules around offering partnerships?
These are all questions that you should ask up front. Remember that the lifestyle you start out with may change over the course of your career. Find a practice that offers opportunities for growth because your long-term income potential is much more important than your starting salary or size of any sign-on bonus.
Once you’ve decided the answers to some of these questions, here are a few tips to help you land a job at the right medical practice.
Talk to your mentors and tap into your connections: Most GI physicians completing a fellowship will have mentors who have connections to practices. Speak with them about where to look. In addition, most medical societies and state-specific GI societies post classified job listings. Use these professional memberships.
Don’t be afraid of the cold call: If you know where you might want to live, you should consider cold calls to practices in the area to see what opportunities are available. That’s how I found my job. I started calling practices in North Carolina. Those that didn’t have openings knew of, and shared names of, practices in the state that did.
Call the local hospitals and ask to speak to the charge nurse in endoscopy: This is one the best tips I got to help narrow the field. These nurses are a great source of information with honest feedback about the reputation of the local GI practices.
Look for collegiality: This can be harder to spot, but it’s a good sign when the CEOs or practice administrators are engaging and take the time to answer questions.
Look for groups that don’t have a lot of turnover: This is another important sign. We call it the churn and burn: We all know of fellows who have joined a practice where they work long hours but never have the opportunity to make partner. You might ask the question directly: How many physicians have come here and left within the first 5 years of employment? A high turnover rate is a red flag. No matter what type of practice you choose, the key is to look at your long-term prospects, not just at short-term rewards. After all, that’s what will give you the greatest opportunities – and likely make you happiest in your career.
David Ramsay, MD, is treasurer of the Digestive Health Physicians Association. He is President of Digestive Health Specialists in Winston Salem, N.C., which he joined in 2012 after working in the Washington area.