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Getting and Keeping a Job


Being well trained, smart and knowledgeable is no longer enough to land and keep a job. These days the emotional quotient - such as likability and social grace - is at least as important as IQ.

I mentioned in my last column that only 19% of medical students in a survey said that they needed more instruction in “bedside manner” and I argued that the need is far greater in my experience. Aside from our personal sterling examples, we have all seen many (most?) other docs in action, both as colleagues and as patients, who are in sore need of such instruction.

More pertinent to our concerns with the business side of medicine is that the perceived — and I think very real — lack of soft skill instruction and lack of emphasis on its importance in our training puts docs at hazard for getting, and keeping, an employed position in the new world of evolving medical employment structure that is bearing down on us all.

I have cited the recent movement of more than 50% of docs taking salaried positions rather than the fast obsolescing model of the small, independent businessman-doc living off of his shingle. So being able to win a job and keep it will involve both a sea change in attitudes and a set of skills that is uncommon among docs.

What we are talking about is “...the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication skills, personal habits, friendliness and optimism that employers look for in a candidate,” according to career consultants, Ricardo Estevez and Don Stewart.

Being well trained, smart and knowledgeable is no longer enough. Not even if you are the best and most talented of the applicants. Prospective medical employers start by assuming that all of their candidates have these qualifications.

What they look for is “likeability,” “clicking,” and “chemistry.” In common parlance, emotional quotient (EQ) is at least as important as IQ — a doc's presumed strong suit. Employers — whether business types or even other docs in administrative positions — are constantly assessing you through your interview (as you are them).

Whether you realize it, or like it, “...how you dress, comb your hair, carry a conversation, are on time, how you listen, seem team oriented and are passionate and motivated...” are each and severally determinative of whether you will get the job and keep it, according to Estevez and Stewart.

Don't forget your presentation over the phone, on LinkedIn, on Facebook and in emails, either.

"It's the undertone of your communications and actions that will come across loud and clear," they explain.

Another, related skill that will be important, and was previously irrelevant in a solo practice, is how you receive and manage criticism. Indeed, I recall some medical students in the past telling me one of the reasons that they went into medicine in the first place was to be above criticism! See what I mean about a needed attitude change?

No physician is capable of avoiding mistakes somewhere along the career line, especially in this age of burgeoning information overload and constantly changing “best practices” guidelines to try to keep up with. So we will need to be prepared to listen intently, repeat back what we have heard so that all are clear and then take the time to process the implications before we react to the inevitable evaluations from our employer.

One transferable skill from bedside to “employer interview-side” is “to be genuine and honest while being tactful at the same time.” Tough, that. Especially when your boss may not have that skill. And yes, there is a whole body of research and literature on how to "manage your boss." We need to expose ourselves to this kind of information and to learn its key lessons if we are to maximize our career opportunities and our service to our patients.

Some medical educators have a ways to go on this. I was once invited to sit in at a meeting at a large medical group where new hires were being instructed on how patients should be interviewed. This was not only to be medically complete but also to secure a positive patient evaluation with which the group held great store in assessing their doctors’ "performance." At the end, when asked my opinion of the training, I pointed out that every study on the subject clearly showed that non-verbal communication is the most important part of the process and this had not been addressed at all. "We don't do that," I was told. Well, I guess you have to start somewhere…

Ultimately a high EQ, whether intuited or painfully acquired, will benefit you in all phases of life — certainly in practicing medicine and as well as finding a job and holding it, as the above example illustrates. And keep in mind as an applicant and as a “member of the team,” that your final goal and your employer's final goal are the same; to make a real match, not pull or push a square peg into a round hole.

In the end, boosting your EQ will help both your job and — even more importantly for us — your patients' well being, to flourish.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
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