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Stay or Go: What to Consider When Changing Jobs in Times of Uncertainty

Published on: Jun 15, 2021

Changing jobs can be a tough decision for any physician. Weighing the unknowns of a new role against the certainty of the current position is hard enough. Add in loyalty to the clinic or medical system and guilt over leaving patients or students, and the decision becomes even tougher. And it doesn’t help when our old friend, inertia, raises its head. Indeed, decision theory shows that even when the current situation is uncomfortable—or downright miserable—the pull of inertia can be overwhelming.

With all of these elements in play, you might expect events like a pandemic to seal the decision to not change jobs. But in truth, the event itself could compel you to explore new work, especially if your current employer has made significant changes to your role.

So, stay or go? Whichever way your decision leans, you’ll want to consider how an uncertain event has impacted—and will continue to impact—you and your family, as well as the organization you’re with and the organizations you consider joining. Here are some things to think about when weighing the decision to change jobs.

Why leave your current role?

If you operate a private practice or work in a clinic that has been hit hard by reduced income streams during an uncertain event, the decision to leave may not be entirely in your hands. You may be laid off or furloughed, for example, or you may find that you need to close your practice. In these cases, the question won’t be “if” but “when” you will leave your current role.

In other circumstances, the decision to leave may not be clear cut. For example, you might find that your current employer has needed to shift responsibilities on your team in a way that isn’t sustainable for you long term. You might be taking more call, for example. Or you might be assigned to duties that don’t use your neurology training, in order to fill staffing gaps elsewhere in the organization.

Of course, you might have very personal reasons influencing your decision to leave, such as family responsibilities that can’t be balanced with your current duties. Whatever your reasons for considering a change, it’s important to take the time to explore the situation. If your position is otherwise fulfilling, you would not want to give it up without verifying that the situation can’t be improved, or that you couldn’t ride it out until effects reverse course.

You’ve decided to switch jobs—now what?

If you’ve changed jobs before, this won’t be new territory for you. Given how much you, your family, and your work may have changed since events like the pandemic, you can assume your goals may have also shifted. Before jumping into the job market, it’s smart to think about what you really want in this next position.

Here are some questions to consider:

·      Do you want essentially the same work, but in a more secure environment?

·      Do you want something quite different, perhaps due to changes in your personal vision and mission due to an unforeseen event?

·      Are you seeking a new location, perhaps to be closer to extended family?

Along with clarifying your job goal, you will also need to set a timeline for the search process: When do you want to start your new job? Counting backwards three to five months from that date provides a reasonable starting point for your outreach. If you have strong leads or offers already, the timeline could be much shorter.

·      As you get ready to launch your search, don’t forget to update your CV, as well as your job seeker profile in the AAN Neurology Career Center. Using resources like this will make the process more seamless and efficient.

What should you prepare for in a new position?

Unless they’re already unemployed, most job seekers prefer securing their new job before giving notice to their current employer.  There’s a risk of leaving the frying pan for the fire, as they say. You don’t want to join a new organization only to learn that they are facing the same issues as the one you’re leaving.

Questions to ask potential employers will vary, depending on your specific concerns, but they might include:

·      How has the department/clinic fared during the unpredictable environment? Are patient numbers in my area of neurology holding steady?

·      Have you made cuts to physician salaries or benefits?

·      Have you furloughed any members of the team?

·      Are vacation requests still being honored/funded?

·      What requests have you made of the neurologists this year, in terms of changed duties?

·      If revenues are down, what are your projections or plans for recovery?

·      What would be the trajectory of my career should I join the department?

Whether you ask these questions directly of the chief or department chair during an interview or conduct research before committing to a meeting may depend on whether you have a reliable source for the information. Without someone close to the department who can tell you what’s happening there, it’s helpful to identify insiders to help develop your “read” of the situation with prospective employers.

Moving forward

Remember inertia? The more confusing or pressed our lives are, the more likely we are to choose not to make a change, even when one is clearly needed. If your plan calls for a job change and you’ve identified your timeline, then it’s time to chart your steps and move forward on your plan. Otherwise, you risk losing the momentum you’ve already gained by getting this far in the process.

On the other hand, if you haven’t clearly decided, then that’s the issue you’ll want to tackle. To do that, you can either seek the information you need to make the decision or give yourself permission to table the question until a specific date in the future. This will let you break the “I really should…” loop that might otherwise be playing in your head.

Whether you stay in your job as uncertainty plays out or leave for a position that better suits your situation, making the decision itself is bound to be good medicine. With so many other ambiguities taking up bandwidth right now, it’s good to feel clarity about your career.