Business of medicine

Physician employment: 6 steps to locking down your dream job

Experts explain how to optimize your CV, evaluate offers, excel in interviews and assess what you most want in a job.


With medical school behind you and residency training drawing to a close, you’re searching for a job—and excited at the prospect of a salary bump. But first, you have to navigate the stress-inducing world of job applications, contract negotiation and site visits. Here are some key tips on showcasing your accomplishments, understanding contracts and choosing the best position for you.

1. Polish your CV and cover letter

Craft a concise CV listing your training and experience in reverse chronological order. Include a list of responsive references, including midlevel providers such as nurses, who’ve agreed to speak to potential employers about you, advises Sonbol Shahid-Salles, DO, MPH, the new physician in practice representative on the AOA Board of Trustees. In your cover letter, be specific about why the job and community appeal to you.

Sonbol Shahid-Salles, DO, MPH

2. Consult a health care attorney

Before signing an offer letter or contract, consult a health care attorney. “Having an attorney review your contract helps you understand your obligations and recognize opportunities for negotiation,” says Dr. Shahid-Salles. Your state osteopathic association should be able to help you connect with an experienced lawyer, she says. To brush up on contract terminology, check out the AOA’s physician employment contract guide (login required).

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3. Evaluate the offer

You can find out the typical salary range for physicians in your specialty and location through various sources online such as Medscape and the Medical Group Management Association. Dr. Shahid-Salles also recommends reviewing contract offers with your program director or faculty mentors to get their take. “My husband, who’s also a physician, discussed his contract with several attendings, who all told him it was a fantastic offer he should accept,” she explains.

Clair Montgomery Howe

4. Negotiate

While many hospitals offer standardized contracts to new physician hires, negotiation is still possible. “Some physicians think they can negotiate absolutely everything in a contract, and some think they can’t negotiate at all,” says Clair Montgomery Howe, a resident career coach for Community Health Systems, a national hospital network. “The truth is usually somewhere in the middle.”

Reviewing your contract with an attorney can help you spot potential trade-offs, Dr. Shahid-Salles says. For example, her husband was able to negotiate extra days off to take board exams after pointing out he wouldn’t be using his employer’s health insurance because he’s covered under Dr. Shahid-Salles’ policy.

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5. Scope sites out

If you’re invited to a site visit with a potential employer, you’ll interview face-to-face and experience the local community, usually on the hospital’s dime. Because site visits typically last one to three days and involve travel, Dr. Shahid-Salles recommends visiting no more than four or five potential employers, but scheduling visits close together to facilitate comparison.

To get a better sense of your potential employer’s culture, ask if you can shadow a practicing physician, Montgomery Howe advises. “Spending time with a physician provides great insight into the pros and cons of a job,” she says. “Recruiters aren’t always physicians, so they may not be aware of every aspect of the role.”

6. Is it a fit?

Throughout your job search, honestly assess your own needs and wants, Dr. Shahid-Salles advises. Do you want to settle in New York City, or in your hometown in Montana? How often are you willing to be on call or work nights? “There is no perfect job; you’re just trying to find the one that’s the best fit and has the most elements that are important to you,” Dr. Shahid-Salles says.