Skip to main content

Leveraging Your Specialty in the Job Search

Published on: Jan 21, 2020


Here’s the good news: You’ve gone to a lot of trouble (and succeeded) in building your proficiency not only in neurology, but perhaps in a specialty such as movement disorders or sleep issues. Here’s the bad news: The offers you’re receiving or the ads you’re seeing all seem to focus on general neurology, with limited opportunity to build on your specialized skills. Now what? The answer to that question will depend partly on your own goals, partly on your persuasiveness, and partly on what you’re willing (or able) to give up to reach your goals. Of course, there’s also a small part to be played by luck or the intervention of others but if this were a pie chart, that slice wouldn’t be very large. For better or worse, most of this particular pie has your name on it. The starting point is you and your goals. Something drew you to the specialty you chose—is that pull still strong enough to influence your next steps? Now is a good time to ask yourself what your ultimate desire would be, related to the advanced training you’ve taken. For example, are you feeling pulled to patient care, or is your actual goal to lead research? Perhaps you envision heading a program in your specialty and taking on business development tasks. The point of this self-inquiry is to flush out the depth and shape of your commitment at this point in your career. It’s probably obvious that there’s a difference between simply using what you learned in your specialty fellowship as part of your next job, or basing the job entirely and solely on your fellowship training. If you want the latter scenario more than the former, you’ll need to structure your job search activities for that outcome. You’ll probably also need to consider some compromises, such as the location or level of the job. This comes back to the question of what you’re willing to give up to reach your goals. Multiple scenarios could be developed to describe any number of strategies that parlay your specialty training into a productive part of your next job. For the sake of simplicity, let’s look at three. Then, you can adjust the strategies if your own situation falls somewhere between these options.


In this situation, the candidate wants a job that is entirely based in his or her specialty area. Let’s say this doctor is completing a fellowship in sleep disorders and wants to work directly with patients, full-time, in a sleep disorders clinic. This focused goal all but defines the strategy. In addition to specifying this desire on any outbound communications (conversations with recruiters, profiles on the AAN’s Neurology Career Center website, responses to ads, etc.), this candidate should create a list of all sleep disorder clinics, then rank the list in clusters of five, according to his or her preference.

Now it’s a matter of outreach to the directors of those clinics (or their recruiters, if that information is easily found) to request consideration as a candidate. While it’s only logical to start with the top five on the master list, candidates who are committed to a very specific goal need to accept the possibility that an employer lower on their list might be the one to make an offer. At that stage, it may be possible to negotiate terms that mitigate the less desirable aspects of the situation, which is one reason to enter all initial conversations with an open mind.


In this situation, the candidate completing the sleep disorders fellowship accepts a position in general neurology, where there is no particular need for his or her specialty. It may be that this doctor doesn’t feel compelled to follow the specialty and is fine with the generalist track after all. But if he or she accepted the offer under duress, perhaps because of timeline pressures, or a need to stay in a particular location, the desire to build on the specialty may still be there. Depending on how deep this desire is, the following strategies may seem to ask a lot of the doctor. But to keep his or her hand in, the doctor will need to extend past the demands of the new job and focus efforts to use the specialty knowledge internally, externally, or both. An internal focus could be as simple as making colleagues in the workplace aware of the specialty training and offering assistance for specific cases. Likewise, if the workplace accommodates this, the doctor can prepare and present information on sleep disorders as part of an internal newsletter or brown bag series. External efforts could be similar, but may also include participation in conferences and journals, conversations or classes offered in the community, or filling shifts at the nearest sleep disorders clinic (if not precluded by the primary work contract). In all these circumstances, the overall strategy is to continue building both skills and credibility in the specialty area, while watching for an opportune time to either propose a deeper commitment to the specialty in the current workplace, or to move forward into a different position more closely aligned with the original career goal.


This could be an outgrowth of Scenario 2, in which an organization that previously saw no need for the specialty has been convinced by the doctor’s persistence in building the case since joining the staff. Or, it could be a new scenario entirely, where the candidate identifies organizations that should start a sleep center, based on a business case the doctor could present in meetings he or she requests for that purpose. If the doctor can present a clear enough argument that the area is under-served and there is income to be made, he or she has the opportunity to turn the conversation into a self-created job with that clinic or practice. In case you’re wondering, the same strategies described here for leveraging specialties can also be applied to additional areas of study you might complete later in your career, such as a business or law degree. The actual scenarios would likely differ, but in all cases, your steps would come back to the question of what you actually want, what you might be able to give up in order to reach your goal, and how you might make best use of the middle ground if you’re not able to achieve the goal fully. As long as you feel engaged in your work and satisfied that your skills are being used, there really is no wrong answer for how you construct your career path.