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Physician job search: Showcase your teamwork

Demonstrating an ability to work with others can be the difference between a physician getting that dream job or being shut out.

By — Posted Jan. 28, 2013

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When David Longworth, MD, chair of Cleveland Clinic's Medicine Institute, looks through doctors' curricula vitae, he's judging their clinical experience — but that's not all. Dr. Longworth, whose institute employs physicians to test and refine medical-home and coordinated-care models as they treat patients, wants to see evidence that prospective employees can work well with others.

“If I got a cover letter and CV that really touched upon team playing, I'd be blown away,” Dr. Longworth said. “But they don't get it yet.”

Recruiters and hiring managers are delivering a new message as team-based approaches such as medical homes and accountable care organizations take deeper root in the health system: Physicians are going to have to communicate to Dr. Longworth and others like him that they're not only great clinicians, but they also can work effectively with others to coordinate and improve care. Those others include doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other clinical staff. Recruiters say physicians can make or break their prospects based on communicating, both in the CV and during the interview, their interpersonal skills — or lack thereof.

A 2012 study by the Medicus Firm indicated that about 78% of hiring executives at hospitals that were in ACOs or planned to form one want to hire doctors who are team-oriented. That is a skill they see as lacking: 58% said between zero and half their physician staff were a good fit for ACOs.

Hospitals and larger groups “don't want a doctor who just has a job to do,” said Bob Collins, managing partner of the Medicus Firm, a physician recruiting firm. “They try to find a doctor who isn't just going to be working with two or three other doctors. They want people who are collaborative [in places] such as in large hospital settings, where people might not all agree. Someone who is more group-centered and not as individualistic.”

Assessing who is a team player can go both ways, recruiters said. Physicians can use their CVs and interviews to highlight how well they work with others, but they also should listen to assess whether the potential employers' definition of “team player” is too conforming, rather than collaborative, for their tastes.

Tailoring CVs and cover letters

National recruiters say doctors can create application packages that speak to their team-playing skills, starting with their CVs. In the last few years, objective sections at the top of doctors' CVs have been a place to showcase those skills, said Peter Cebulka, Merritt Hawkins' director, recruiting development and training.

This would be a great place to mention a commitment to teamwork and an overall philosophy of medical care, Cebulka said. He recommended using phrases along the lines of “team oriented,” “physician with experience leading a treatment team,” “seeking culture of collaborative integrated care,” and “looking to join organizations with a team approach to improving patient care and clinical outcomes.”

Collins suggested that doctors could take it a step further by outlining, in a separate section of the CV, their interests and hobbies, such as coaching their children's baseball team or participating in community activities. That way, recruiters and potential employers get more well-rounded pictures of doctors, who show they interact with many different types of people in their daily lives.

Shelley Tudor, an Indianapolis-based physician recruiter and board member of the Assn. of Staff Physician Recruiters, said doctors also could showcase their team-playing skills by creating bullet points on CVs under current or previous jobs for activities like committee work or supervising experience. They could complete separate sections after those bullet points to expand descriptions of their roles.

“For resumes, it's important to show interdisciplinary team involvement, demonstrating how they understand the flow of patient care,” Tudor said.

Collins said the cover letter gives physicians another chance to highlight interpersonal skills and reiterate their desire to join collaborative teams. Cover letters not only introduce the doctors' medical philosophy but also provide jumping-off points for recruiters to ask questions during interviews, Collins said.

Tudor said cover letters help recruiters understand what positions doctors are looking for and how best to place them.

“I have a tendency to go right to the resumes to see if doctors have the basic requirements,” Tudor said. “If it looks like they have what I'm looking for, I will go to the cover letters. I want to know that person's philosophy.”

What to do in the interview

As the medical profession becomes more focused on interpersonal skills, interviewing techniques among physician recruiters are changing as well, Tudor said. Recruiters are asking more behavioral-based questions, where recruiters pose more open-ended questions like, “Give me an example where a patient had a bad outcome.”

Recruiters are trained not to fill in the conversational gaps, allowing doctors to take as much time as they need to answer the questions with the idea of studying how they react. Collins said traditionally, interviews among doctors were more like conversations than interviews, he said. Doctors looking to hire other doctors for their practices were more interested in how they got along with them. Now it's important that doctors are able to get along with many others and resolve conflict in larger organizations.

A typical question now would be, “Tell me a time when there was a change in your organization and you didn't agree, and what did you do,” Collins said. Another question may ask doctors how they reacted when they were not scheduled to work and colleagues called, asking for help.

Cebulka said recruiters want to know how doctors manage office strife. Recruiters may ask a doctor to describe a situation when a nurse handled a patient's medication incorrectly. They may ask what a doctor did when he or she disagreed about patient care with physician administrators, he said. Recruiters also may want to know how doctors handled situations when they made mistakes.

While doctors want to impress their prospective employers, they should be critically assessing their employers as well and be looking for employers who align with their personal and professional philosophies.

“My advice to doctors when these types of questions come up is to be honest,” Cebulka said. “That way, you'll end up in a place where you belong.”

Another good way for doctors to seamlessly showcase their team skills is to quiz prospective employers about theirs. This does two things: It allows doctors to interview the employers about their outlooks, and it implies that working well with others is important to them, too, Cebulka said.

One of the more overlooked interviewing issues that have cost doctors jobs is how they treat others who aren't directly interviewing them, recruiters said. Collins recalled a time that a doctor being considered for a job as chief of a division at a major academic institution lost that opportunity because he was rude to the support staff before an interview.

“That was a deal killer,” Collins said.

Pay attention to little things

Physicians' interviews start the moment they leave their homes on their way to meet the recruiters, Collins said. Everyone associated with the target organization, whether they be Realtors or hotel staff, are part of the recruiting package. People sitting on the plane next to them might be part of that health system they want to join, he said. When hospitals get feedback that their prospective hires were rude to people, that lets them know what these doctors are really like, because they have let their guards down outside the traditional setting of interviews, he said.

When Dr. Longworth is interviewing physicians, he tries to put himself in the position of the patients those doctors would be treating. Physicians who talk so much that he can't get a word in edgewise would do the same with patients, he said. Doctors who don't make eye contact or are stiff and nervous are discounted as well.

Also, everyone who has contact with a physician during an interview is asked about that doctor's manner, he said. The person charged with escorting the doctor around to many interviews with different staff members also is part of the recruiting team, although that might not be obvious to the doctor, he said.

Tudor said most recruiters don't usually check with support staff to see how doctors behaved with them. But if they're on the fence about a particular doctor, they might give those staff members a call.

Most recruiters have long-term relationships with managers at hotels where they book accommodations for prospective hires. Tudor recalled that once a hotel manager called her, saying a particular physician had been a horrible guest to his staff, complaining that his room wasn't big enough.

“It's about being a people person,” Tudor said. “That means simply being kind to everyone you meet, whether it's on email, over the phone or in person.”

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Social media could boost — or sink — job chances for doctors

National recruiters say those considering physicians for jobs are scouring Google and social media to see if they can find clues about how well physicians will work in a team environment.

The search isn't necessarily based on just looking to see if physicians posted any photos of behavior that might be deemed inappropriate. They also are looking to see if there are more subtle hints to help them figure out if a doctor has the personality to fit in with the organization's team.

Shelley Tudor, an Indianapolis-based physician recruiter and board member of the Assn. of Staff Physician Recruiters, said she sometimes sees doctors who give the impression online that they might not get along with a variety of people.

“This information is up there for the public to see, and while there's nothing wrong with that, doctors are portraying images of themselves,” Tudor said. “These organizations have to ask, how does this person represent us, and are we comfortable with that.”

While some states ban job seekers or employers from demanding passwords to see privately posted information —and more states are introducing legislation to do just that — anything that can be publicly found is fair game, recruiters said.

For instance, some physicians have taken political positions and signed online petitions, said Peter Cebulka, director of recruiting development and training for the search firm Merritt Hawkins. While doctors have every right to do that, sometimes those positions don't mesh with those in different geographic areas, he said.

“People in that community can do Google searches of doctors as well,” Cebulka said. “That might not show the doctor in a positive light, depending on that community's outlook about a particular issue.”

Cebulka suggested that physicians ask trusted friends to look over their social media and search footprints for feedback about what impression they might give. The point isn't to stamp out any sign of a personality. It's so doctors know how they are presenting themselves, determine if they feel comfortable with that presentation, and decide if they would want to work for an organization that might have a problem with that online personality.

— By Sue Ter Maat

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AMA principles on independence of employed physicians

Delegates to the American Medical Association Interim Meeting in November 2012 approved principles to address conflicts of interests that come up between physicians and their employers. The AMA wanted to create guidelines so any employer's desire for doctors to be “team players” didn't trump the interest of patients. These principles are:

  • A doctor's paramount responsibility is to his or her patients. Additionally, given that an employed physician occupies a position of significant trust, he or she owes a duty of loyalty to his or her employer. This divided loyalty can create conflicts of interest, such as financial incentives to over- or undertreat patients, which employed physicians should strive to recognize and address.
  • Employed physicians should be free to exercise their personal and professional judgment in voting, speaking and advocating on any matter regarding patient care interest, the profession, health care in the community and the independent exercise of medical judgment. Employed doctors should not be deemed in breach of their employment agreements, nor be retaliated against by their employers, for asserting these interests.
  • In any situation where the economic or other interest of the employer are in conflict with patient welfare, patient welfare must take priority.
  • Doctors should always make treatment and referral decisions based on the best interests of their patients. Employers and the physicians they employ must ensure that agreements or understandings (explicit or implicit) restricting, discouraging or encouraging particular treatment or referral options are disclosed to patients.
  • Assuming a position such as medical director that may remove a doctor from direct patient-physician relationships does not override professional ethical obligations. … Physicians who hold administrative leadership positions should use whatever administrative and governance mechanisms exist within the organization to foster policies that enhance the quality of patient care and the patient care experience.

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External links

American Medical Association's Principles for Physician Employment (link)

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