Prescription for a Healthy Job Search: Three Perspectives
When it’s time for a job search, whether you’re completing residency or a practicing neurologist, it’s only natural to seek advice. These days, there’s a lot available: job boards, blogs, books, employment counselors…the field of career advising has grown exponentially, providing no end of expertise to tap into. But even with so much information on hand, there’s one source that job seekers often turn to first: their peers. Following are stories of three neurologists and their job searches. As of this writing, two are in the hunt and one has started a new job. Each has experienced advances and setbacks, and they all have tips to offer.
Showing return on investment
As any number of people can attest, the pandemic wasn’t an ideal time for a job search, but you can’t always choose your timing. That was the case for Neil Patel, MD, MBA, who was finishing a fellowship in sports neurology in early 2020 just as the pandemic shutdowns were beginning. With few sports programs operating, options for work in his specialty weren’t strong. Needing an income, Patel pivoted to an area that was blossoming in the early days of the pandemic: telemedicine. His decision to take a teleneurohospitalist job early on let him ride out the bulk of the COVID-19 crisis as a remote worker while also continuing to build prospects for a sports neurology career.
Ideally, Patel says, he would like a sports neurology position focused on patient care. But he also knows the numbers might not work in his favor. For that reason, he’s expecting his new job would also include another role, perhaps in headache medicine, or something related to administration or even informatics. In the meantime, Patel plans to keep up his search process along with “extracurriculars,” such as attending conferences in the field and planning to take the brain injury boards.
To bolster his job search efforts, Patel is taking a novel approach. He uses his MBA training (impressively, a degree he started during residency and completed as a fellow) to create a business plan showing how his work would provide a return on investment for employers. As he notes, “There’s definitely a lot about the business of medicine that you don’t learn about in training. That’s one way my MBA fit in. I was able to show my value and how I’d contribute.”
So far, the strategy seems to be working, especially when combined with networking and direct outreach to potential employers. In the summer of 2022, Patel was offered a new role―which unfortunately fell through―and later, his process helped him get close to another offer before the position was filled from within.
As difficult as these near misses are, Patel isn’t giving up on his goal. Using more of his MBA skills, he has analyzed which types of employers are the best prospects, helping him to stay targeted. “The sports neurology field isn’t big, so I’m hoping to help build something,” he explains. “When I am able to find someone to contact, I do research before I reach out. Finding out which department already has relationships with sports teams or sports medicine, for example. Then I can focus on figuring out if it’s something that can be paired with multiple departments, to share the load financially.”
Job search tips from Patel
Keep your search broad, in terms of different resources to use. “Don’t rely on just recruiters, but the AAN Neurology Career Center, LinkedIn, and other avenues, too. I definitely do like that the Career Center is promoting jobs and not just recruiters, so you can contact employers directly.”
Have a proposal and an idea of what you want and how you’d fit in. “The job you really want might not be listed, so you won’t know until you ask for it.”
Take time for yourself. “I never had time for a break before. It’s nice to get sleep, it’s nice to be doing old hobbies and enjoying life.”
Keeping it fresh at mid-career
“I’m learning.” Words everyone should strive to say every day are practically a mantra for James R. Brasic, MD, MPH. As an academic researcher specializing in clinical translational investigations of neurologic disorders, the very focus of his work has been to learn and then tell others what he’s found. That may be why it came as such blow when funding for his research was decreased two years ago and he was forced into an early retirement. Without this platform for learning and teaching, he was left unmoored. “I really didn’t tell anybody for a long time,” Brasic says now. “It has required a change in my view of myself and my career, and my various options.”
One of those options, which might not have occurred without the abrupt loss of his work, is the role he’s created for himself as a self-employed neuroscientist. That’s the title he’s using on his LinkedIn account and in his outreach, and it is an apt descriptor of his activities. In an unexpected twist on his career path, Brasic has found more freedom now to pursue his interests than when he was employed, including work with physicians and students from other countries. “I have a number of studies I would welcome students for,” he says. “I’d also be happy to collaborate on other peoples’ studies. I welcome collaborations with people all around the world.”
It hasn’t been the easiest path. Initially uncomfortable with public speaking, Brasic learned to handle stage fright by joining ToastMasters and attending religiously. Unfamiliar with networking and self-promotion, he learned how to reach out to others using LinkedIn and other tools. And, used to having more structure in his work, he learned how to choose projects and collaborations that fit with his larger plan.
Which is? “I want to be in research. That’s what I do. I’m continuing the career that I’ve been developing for the past decades, clinical research in neurology.” With that focus in mind, Brasic has continued his job search even while developing his own opportunities. He’s found that the academic research positions he seeks are highly competitive—with more than 100 applicants in some cases—causing him to add international relocation to the list of options he would now consider.
And he continues to grow, both professionally and personally. “I’ve published several papers this year, I’m working internationally, I’m making presentations. I’m really succeeding,” he says. “Even though I don’t have a job, I’m maintaining the skills to continue in an academic career. I’m learning.”
Job search tips from Brasic:
Use the Career Center offerings. “I’ve been grateful for the help from the AAN Career Center. I have utilized many of their comments on revising my CV; I thought they gave me a great service in providing that.”
Look for resources online. “There are a lot of free things online to access for good advice. For example, I’ve benefited from a number of good sessions on using LinkedIn.”
Narrow your focus. “In the past year, I’ve developed my job search focus. Initially, I was quite broad but I’m realizing the value of staying focused.”
Finding the fit
For Robin Ulep, MD, the job search wasn’t just an exercise in applying to postings and going through the interviews. It was more of an evolving process, shifting between what she was learning about the employers and what she was learning about herself. “My job search process was really self-reflective,” she says, “an examination of what I was looking for.” The process yielded results, with Ulep accepting a position in 2022 as an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Although she started her job relatively soon after completing her vascular neurology fellowship, the search process actually began for Ulep at least a year or two earlier. That’s when she began collecting articles and tips provided by the AAN Career Center and reading about the job search online. Not coincidentally, that’s also when she started getting serious about the issues of burnout that she was hearing about. “I went into the field of Neurology because I wanted to be here,” Ulep says. “But, especially with all the news about physician burnout and the critical shortage of physicians especially of women physicians leaving the workforce during the COVID pandemic, it really weighed on me that it could be difficult to stay in the field long-term without adequate support. I wanted a career with longevity, but I wasn’t sure if that was going to be possible.”
Deciding that she wanted to prioritize her well-being so she could stay in medicine for the long haul, Ulep began to focus on the way she wanted to work and the type of place where she felt that would be possible. Her decision? “Culture and environment at the institution are very important to me.”
With that realization, the process now seemed even more daunting. It’s one thing to evaluate a workplace based on tangibles such as pay or clinical duties, but assessing the culture felt less definable. To help break the problem down, Ulep relied on advice she’d received in residency to attend conferences and other professional events. As luck would have it, the pandemic provided her more opportunities than she might have had, because many of the sessions were being conducted online. It was in one of these sessions that she met the person who would eventually become the link to her job. “It was actually a year in advance (2020) of when I was planning to start my job search,” Ulep recalls. “But I went to the AAN Virtual Career Fair and was able to talk with the chair of the Department of Neurology at Mount Sinai. And then when I was ready, that was my touch point. I reached out to her and that really helped with my decision.”
Ulep continued her outreach and research during her fellowship, as well as her self-reflection. As she confirmed personal and professional goals, one that stood out to her was being at an institution that was actively making efforts to reduce health disparities in patient care. Knowing this was an issue she wanted to impact helped her decide on Mount Sinai, which serves the highly diverse New York City—Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. In her discussions and networking, she was able to confirm the hospital’s match for her values, which made the choice seem easy in the end. “For me, it’s inspiring to serve my community and patients with stroke from diverse backgrounds.”
Tips from Ulep:
Take control of your search. “In residency and fellowship, it’s predetermined what you’ll be doing, so there’s no real control in that process. For job search, there are so many possibilities and no set timeline. It’s important to make your own timeline and to narrow down the search.”
Talk to insiders. “Learning about the institutions was important to me because I wanted to prioritize quality of life. Before I even reached out to certain places, I would talk to colleagues or people I’d met, to get their perspective. You can get information online but talking to someone who’s currently there helps you understand how you’d fit in.”
Start early to build your own data. “I created a separate email and signed up for a broad notification from the AAN Neurology Career Center so I could see different kinds of job postings. I learned a lot about different jobs, what the pay was, the schedule and call. Later I used that as a resource, even if the postings were a year or two old, because sometimes it’s not easy to find that information when you need it.”
Moving your own search forward
Inspired? Comforted? Challenged? Stories from your peers are just a few of the processes you can learn about by talking with others about their career paths. If you haven’t begun your networking, or haven’t made it a focus for your search, now is the time to start. Talk with your mentors and peers, reach out to colleagues you haven’t met yet, and attend all the AAN Neurology Career Center live and online events you can. Whether it’s a great job search tip or the contact who will eventually lead to your next job, you won’t come away empty-handed.