How to Be a Big Shot

July 31, 2015
Eric Postal, MD

Tips on climbing the corporate ladder in radiology.

There are an awful lot of hardworking folks out there who hope for something better in the future. Many believe that reliably showing up, giving their best effort, and performing above and beyond the call of duty whenever possible will, one day, get them noticed, appreciated, and elevated to a higher position.

There are also a lot of people who buy lottery tickets, expecting to become millionaires as a result. And probably not that much less realistically, because-sorry, all you young idealists!-just doing a good job and staying the course isn’t going to cut it most of the time. Especially in a field like radiology, where you’re surrounded by other overachievers who out-competed a ludicrous number of other hopefuls just to wind up working alongside you.

More of the same is therefore not going to get you ahead of them. To become a Big Shot like a department chair, medical director, or other mucketymuck, you’re going to have to do things they aren’t:

• Amass credentials. In this game, it’s not quality, but quantity that counts, so start racking up some letters.  Begin with what you already have-shamelessly list your undergrad degree(s). Did you pass your Boards? That makes you an MD, BS, DABR (or FACR, if you managed to beg, borrow, or steal that honorific). This is still just kiddie stuff, of course, since everyone rubbing elbows with you in the reading-room can boast the same.

To stand out you’re going to have to go further. Get an MBA, for instance-don’t worry, you needn’t spend a fortune or win a coveted spot at Wharton; a correspondence course from Honest Joe’s Online Education Emporium will result in the same letters on your CV and business card. Once you’ve depleted Joe’s offerings for anything that could possibly be relevant to your aftername alphabet soup, feel free to get creative or even make stuff up. Were you chief resident? Put CR after your name. Heck, even if somebody notices it amongst the other jumble of abbreviations and wonders what it means, he’ll probably avoid asking lest he appear ignorant.

• Volunteer for things. Every time an opportunity comes up to get yourself doing something other than what your job already requires, grab it. In addition to getting you out of that boring old reading room (and having a legit reason for some of your workload getting redistributed to the drones you’re leaving behind!), each project you’re associated with is a potential bridge to bigger and better things.

Just don’t make the rookie blunder of volunteering for anything that will actually result in more work for you-be a committee member rather than a chair. This will also insulate you against a bad rap if/when the project in question turns out to be a huge, embarrassing failure. Let the guys who were in charge get the blame while you quietly point out that, if only your ideas had been listened to, things might have turned out for the better. Best of all, anytime you can get credit for volunteering for stuff that turns out to be other folks’ burden, do it. For instance, telling the admin that you think your department should “take back the night” and cover its own call 24-7-365…right before you go part-time.

• Bad-mouth other rads at your current level. Nothing says you belong on a higher plane of operations like expressing disdain for your current peers. Everything’s fair game here-they don’t put in extra effort to build the practice, they can’t see the “bigger picture,” they are lazy and would rather go home on time than finish reading out the worklist, etc. Sound off about how radiologists are overpaid (or, even if not, still spineless cowards who won’t resist more pay cuts). Make it clear that you’d have no problem standing over your colleagues with a bullhorn and a whip…you’re clearly management material.

• Don’t be too good in your current position. If you are an amazingly efficient workhorse who reliably cleans up the worklist lickety split, or a go-to maven for consultations from colleagues in one or more subspecialty areas...knock it off. Why in the world would anyone want to remove you from your post if there was no prayer of finding someone to do a shadow of the job you were doing there?

Mind, you don’t want to be a complete trainwreck, but lackluster enough that promoting you carries the promise of replacing you with someone better while you flourish in your new role. A nice middle ground of slightly better than mediocre is what you’re looking to tread…think 51st percentile. Make it seem that you’ve got at least one more rung of the ladder to climb before you’ve maxed out your potential under the Peter Principle…but not so much on the ball that the person promoting you need worry that he’s putting you in reach of usurping his own position down the line.

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