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Real World Job Search: A 12-month Timeline to Stay on Track

Published on: Jan 21, 2020


As their training winds down, neurology residents and fellows begin one more process in the midst of further sharpening their practice skills: the real world job search.

Some residents and fellows already have job offers—or contracts signed—soon after their training begins, or even before. For those in search phase, some good news: the job search can be relatively straightforward. And adhering to a process can help to ensure that you land the coveted position for which you’ve spent years preparing.

Below is a simple timeline to help you structure a job search that runs its course during the 12 months of your fellowship. If you have special circumstances—for instance, if you need a J-1 Visa—start your search process earlier and adjust accordingly.

12 to 9 Months Out (July, August, September):

Pinpoint the kind of work you want. “The first thing you have to do is figure out what kind of job you want: A traditional academic research position? A primarily clinical position, seeing patients in a university or hospital? A group practice position?” says Ralph Józefowicz, MD, FAAN. He is professor of neurology and medicine and associate chair for education at the department of neurology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. His advice to residents and fellows includes deciding what geographic area they want to live in, a decision which might depend on family or personal circumstances. For those who plan to live in popular areas, such as San Francisco or Boston, the earlier the search process begins, the better. Perfect your CV and LinkedIn profile. Recruiters will be in touch, so now’s the time to update and complete your “marketing materials.”

 9 to 6 Months Out (October, November, December):

Identify specific organizations where you want to work. Resist the urge to limit too narrowly, as you may not have any basis of comparison. You may, for instance, be drawn to a particular facility due to its salary, but another employer could offer you perks like more flexibility or less call, which you may not take into account if you are too closely focused. Aim for a list of perhaps 20 to 25 organizations; then hone it down by researching and talking to people. For the top 5 or 10, do a deeper dive: If you’re looking at hospitals, for example, discover who would hire you, and who would be your department chief. If you’re investigating private practice, learn about the partners, the patient numbers, the conditions the practice treats, etc.

At this stage, many residents and fellows may already be interviewing, considering offers, or signing contracts, which can be an advantage. “As they go into the new year, residents and fellows can concentrate, and not fly around the country doing interviews,” says Beth Brackenridge, FASPR, senior recruiter with Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Spectrum Health. Recruiters, too, she adds, prefer to have offers buttoned up by December or January, because of the paperwork and the credentialing process involved.

Prepare for the phone interview. “Be knowledgeable,” says Brackenridge. “Search websites. Understand employer goals or missions. Would their systems be good fits? Looking at a website and what a system has done can give you some ideas of where they’ve been, and their growth.”

6 to 3 Months Out (January, February, March):

Visit potential employers, if you don’t yet have an offer. Visits, which are typically scheduled between October and March, are necessary so you can understand job elements, communicate your strengths, and negotiate well. To arrange visits to hospitals, contact hospital physician recruiters: “I’m interested. How do I arrange a visit?” For private practice and academic positions, refer to the list you’ve developed, and contact practice managers, partners, or department chairs. “There’s such a great need for neurologists in all fields; I don’t think people will be struggling to find positions,” says Józefowicz. Still, if there is a particular place you want to work, you’re going to need to strategize to lock it in.

Anticipate offers and contracts. By now you may be fielding offers and peering at employment contracts. Józefowicz advises retaining an attorney to review the 2 of 2 contract, for a number of reasons. For example, while some employers offer big money, signing bonuses or incentive plans, “They may be so unrealistic you may burn out,” Józefowicz explains. It’s wise to have an attorney ensure that if you need to, you can get out of the contract before it ends.

3 Months Out to End of Fellowship (April, May, June):

Still awaiting offers? Shift action plans if necessary. Send letters directly to department chiefs or chairs, or practice managers or partners and make reference to former visits. If you’re not close to an offer by 30 days out, something needs to shift: You may need to push harder on employers who are close to extending an offer, or accept that you may not be working when your fellowship ends. In this case, consider temporary positions. Józefowicz says he routinely hears from facilities with needs for a range of locum tenens practitioners, from stroke doctors to neurologists who can take in-house calls to those who can commit to working for just one month. Most positions involve 70-hour work weeks but offer very high salaries, he adds. While this can be a grueling start to your professional life, there are some up sides: You will hone your skills quickly while also earning enough to help pay down student debt you may have accumulated during training.

Throughout Your Training:

Prepare for business. Heading into private practice? If you can, set aside time during your residency or fellowship to learn medicine’s business operations side. Consider taking an online class; the American Academy of Neurology has a wide range of inexpensive online practice management webinars that can help prepare you at You also may want to sign up for relevant newsletters, or even volunteer at a non-profit clinic to experience real-world practice conditions.

Plan for academics. Is teaching one of your professional goals? Mastering the subject matter is one aspect; mastering the art of teaching is another. Can you enroll in a short course on adult learning styles, or another class to help maximize your teaching methods?

You may not need these extra steps to win over a future employer, but they can increase your confidence in the classroom or lecture hall.

Don’t miss conferences. Attend or present at as many meetings as you can fit into your schedule. In addition to raising your professional profile, you’ll be positioning yourself to meet potential employers and future colleagues.

“It’s never too early to start looking,” states Brackenridge. For more ideas and advice on specific aspects of the job search process, visit the American Academy of Neurology’s online Neurology Career Center.

The Neurology Career Center features nearly 500 open neurology positions in a variety of practice settings nationwide. Save time and stay on top of your job search by creating a Job Seeker profile and create a Job Alert to be notified only when new positions of interest have been posted.