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How Many Jobs Equals a Career?


Working at one facility or practice for your entire career is no longer the norm. Knowing how to recognize when – and why – to make a move can be beneficial.

Browsing the radiology forums this week, I saw a topic that has been discussed more than a couple of times in the past: What’s the average number of jobs radiologists have before retirement? The topic usually morphs into how many jobs a rad should have, how many would be too much, etc.

I first heard such talk before I knew about that forum...maybe even before it existed. The original context regarded a rad’s reputation, or really that of any physician: if you had more than a couple of jobs on your CV, that told prospective employers bad things about you. Either you’d repeatedly been fired, or you’re a malcontent who’s never satisfied with what you have, constantly getting fed up and leaving. Who’d want to take you on with that kind of track-record?

Conventional wisdom was, as one of my residency-attendings liked to say, that you should “work hard, study hard, get good job” (for best effect, pronounce with a Boston accent so there’s a rhyme to it). Emphasis on “job” being singular. Land the best gig deserved by your reputation and credentials, and make a long-term go of it. Sure, a rad would appropriately change jobs if his or her group crashed and burned or if it turned out to be a bad environment. But, if a rad moved around more than a couple of times, it screamed out that the problem was with him or her, not with the employers.

Times change, and attitudes can lag behind but eventually change with them. It’s still possible for a rad to join a group, earn partnership or its equivalent, and remain there for the rest of his or her career, enjoying parity with colleagues. Slowly but surely, however, rads seem to be accepting that this path will not reliably be available for everyone. For some, changing gigs a few times might well be the best path to personal success.

I’ve, thus, been happy to see that, as yet, the thread does not contain a single comment along the lines of, “If you’ve worked more than one job in X amount of time, there’s something wrong with you…” or “…nobody worthwhile will hire you.” Folks are citing the influences of corporate entities buying smaller groups and/or gobbling up contracts with hospitals all over the place, and the growing influence of teleradiology (not just from the corporate entities, as I’ve mentioned in other columns).

The upshot is that rads who don’t happen to live somewhere with viable partnership opportunities—or circumstances that will let them start their own rad groups—are left with a couple of options in this field: Move somewhere with other opportunities or get the best job you can access from your current location. And, if that job doesn’t “capture” you by making you some sort of partner after all, or giving you a deal as-good-as, keep your eyes open for better opportunities as time goes by.

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One person on the thread summed it up nicely: “Why would you want to stay at Practice A for 30 years when Practice B down the street is offering you 10 percent more? When Practice A needs you more, they will offer 10 percent more to bring you back (or Practice C will).”

To adapt to this changing world, a lot of rads might, thus, embrace the notion of switching jobs more than once or twice in their career. I’m not suggesting an interval of months, of course, or even just a year or two, unless you find yourself in a really lousy situation. Or if some amazing opportunity comes knocking at your door.

But, if you’ve been working somewhere and have gone pretty much as high up their ladder as they’re going to allow, you probably shouldn’t expect things to magically change down the line and let you ascend further. This might be your long-term plateau—and that assumes the group doesn’t eventually fall on hard times (or claim to) and start turning your plateau into a downslope. If someone else offers you a better situation, why not take it, or at least seriously consider doing so?

(A side-note: Suppose another opportunity gets your attention. Now on the verge of losing you, your current gig suddenly offers you something better. Worth accepting it? Well, of course that depends on the details…but, as I’ve discussed in previous blogs, a group that waits until a member is looking to leave has waited too long to intervene.)

Back to the matter of a “patchwork” career, composed of more jobs than our physician-forebears might have considered prudent/respectable: Best not to simply think of it as a matter of periodically searching your soul about whether you’re content with your current gig, or keeping an eye on the job-listings. The truly ambitious are also constantly improving on what they, themselves, bring to the table.

Become more productive and efficient with your reads. Sharpen your radiological skillset, even learn how to read types of study you didn’t before. Learn more about the non-clinical aspects of our field – take continuing medical education about them, read articles, serve on related committees. Borrowing a term from Scott Adams, add to your “talent stack.”

Not only will such measures increase your desirability for future jobs, they might just get you past the plateau you’ve reached at your current one. Becoming capable at new things might qualify you for new roles, positions, even titles.

Looking back on the series of (four) jobs I’ve held since fellowship, for instance, I’m happy to say that each change I’ve made has been “trading up.” Some of that has been because of an improving market. It might also be because I’ve learned how to job-seek more effectively (that’s one of those non-clinical skills I referenced above).

Most important, however, is that each of those previous jobs played a part in building me up into the radiologist I am today. True, it would have been nice to land a solid partnership-spot right off the bat—but, maybe the radiologist I was back then would not have merited such a position. Maybe each of the jobs I held, and the time I spent growing within them, was necessary to qualify me for the better positions I subsequently landed.

Follow Editorial Board member Eric Postal, M.D., on Twitter, @EricPostal_MD.

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