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How to Be a Great Physician Employee


Now that more than 50% of physicians are employees, we need to know more about managing our careers than just doing our best for our patients.

Now that more than 50% of physicians are employees, we need to know more about managing our careers than just doing our best for our patients. And, like so many other subjects in my column, docs do not get any training on many of the most important financial and career skills, including maximizing your functional and financial potential in a larger organization.

The good news is that the time to start as a high-functioning employee is now — whether you are considering selling a practice to join an existing group, just coming out of training, or have been in a group for some time.

The first order of business is to make yourself think like an owner, whether or not you are one. This powerfully translates into speech, behavior, and rewards. Acting confidant and responsible leads to positive feelings and results.

Next, if you do not know already, informally ask people in the organization whom they most respect. This small identified group should be emulated and befriended, if possible. They already know/do the “right stuff” and can function as your informal set of advisors.

Whether or not this short list includes any senior management, it will be of great benefit to all, not just you, to identify someone, even the CEO, to ask if they will mentor you. This could be as innocuous as periodically coming for advice or to bring suggestions. If you can return the favor by being confidential, trustworthy, and helpful outside the chain of command, then so much the better. Perhaps bringing informal feedback or awareness of developing trends and situations will be appreciated.

All of this is to cement the sense of affiliation that you, and your colleagues, have regarding your place in the organization. Studies have shown that a major factor to happiness is job security, and this precious commodity is no longer quite the given for docs that it once was.

One of the key things any employee must learn to do, for both personal and mutual benefit, is how to manage relations with his or her direct boss. Whether it is a chief of a department or an administrator, anything you can do to make your boss’ job easier will be noted and appreciated.

Contrary to hoary military practice of avoiding volunteering for anything, volunteering to help management is a sure step in a positive direction. As a side benefit, you might find unexpected enjoyment or talent in some of these side activities — to say nothing of advancement and rewards.

Next is the important question of raises and bonuses. The specifics of your contract will guide your behavior here. It literally pays to be prepared for your regular review with a documented list of your objectives met and value-added initiatives. You can be sure your boss will be so prepared.

Then, ask for what you specifically want, and do not do it with a round number. A very interesting study from the Columbia Business School found specific numbers generate more serious attention than a hazy round number and yield better results. It indicates that you have done your homework and know your value. Ask for $10,350 instead of $10,000, for example.

The average employed doc might not see himself or herself as a leader, and that’s OK. But it is just common sense that taking a more active, aware role in your organization can only be rewarding and mutually beneficial.

If any of this seems contrived or cynical, know that there is a deep and nuanced reserve of study in the literature on this subject. “Just taking care of my patients” is no longer enough, if it ever was.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice