As a newly minted – or even early career – nurse practitioner or physician assistant, finding a job in specialty can feel like an insurmountable task. And yet every year, thousands of your colleagues start their careers as specialists straight out of training.
How do they make this happen? Luck? Did they compromise big on something that would be a non-starter for you? Do they ‘know a guy?’
It may not be easy, but if you are strategic and persistent, you too can land the best specialty job for your skills and clinical interests.
Below, I will show you my five best tips for getting hired in a specialty as a new nurse practitioner or PA.
1. Show Enthusiasm Early on for Your Specialty
The first time you express interest in your specialty should not be during a job interview. If that’s the case, your chances of making it any further in that process are less than ideal.
That’s because specializing is not for everybody. Employers, not to mention specialists themselves, know this. The demands of the job, the lifestyle, and other requirements may be a deal breaker for some. If you like excessive levels of variety and a background of nonstop chaos, you may be better suited for emergency medicine. If you’d rather wear a bowtie than scrubs, perhaps pediatrics would be a better fit. Big crossword puzzle fan? Anesthesia. I could go on all day.
In all seriousness, your career trajectory starts in your training program. If you are interested in neurosurgery, a research project in that general vicinity can do you wonders at a job interview. It shows that you are interested, engaged, and can maintain this focus for the long haul.
Your career path isn’t set in stone, however. Changing specialties later on may be a serious task, but it’s not impossible. It’s nowhere near as hard as starting a new career from scratch or going back to school because you are unhappy with your work.
However, keep in mind that hiring, training, and then losing a specialty PA or NP can hurt any department or organization. They don’t want to take that chance on you unless they are reasonably sure it’ll pay off. You don’t want to take that chance either, as you may not be immune to any financial, emotional, or professional difficulties from such a decision, either.
2. Networking Is Not a Four-Letter Word
If you are like the rest of us, you aren’t the biggest fan of ‘networking.’ It’s not something clinicians often admit to enjoying, let alone doing. However, put two clinicians in the same room and eventually they’ll form a bond over a common experience. They may even offer suggestions to help alleviate each other’s clinical pain points.
That’s really all ‘networking’ is; forming relationships with people and offering to help. Whether that’s filling a job vacancy, hiring a new provider, or just being a friend and colleague, it counts.
One of the best ways to do this is to attend your local, regional, and national conferences. Local conferences are great for making contacts in a new area, while regional and national events can be leveraged to expand your network or meet people who make hiring decisions in a totally new area.
Don’t forget about events at your hospital, such as grand rounds. Attend as many events that you can use as an excuse to get in the same room as more experienced clinicians.
If going to a physical conference is out of the question, networking online is more valuable than ever, and can create real connections. Joining and engaging in communities like Clinician1 can be as good as attending a conference. There are around 50,000 active PA’s, NP’s, and students who call themselves members, many of whom are happy to connect with you.
You may have heard that most people find jobs through people they know. I have landed multiple job offers this way, sometimes in otherwise unlikely, roundabout ways. Often, these positions also seem to be more interesting than those I see posted on generic, non-clinically focused job search sites.
I have also been able to turn a hobby into a successful side hustle and business through ‘networking.’ Almost all my clients who contract with me for my medical writing services found me through mutual connections, word of mouth, or (you guessed it) someone I already knew.
Of course, that’s just a single case study, which you know is the lowest quality of evidence. Consider the following.
In 2016, LinkedIn polled approximately 3,000 individuals in staff and management positions, asking how they found their most recent job. The results were clear. The clear majority of people surveyed (85%) reported that they found their employment primarily through someone they already knew.
Glassdoor, an online job board that allows people to anonymously report their salary, did a similar study in 2009. They found that the chances of receiving an offer were about two to six percent higher if you were referred by a current employee. And yes, this was statistically significant.
Can you find a job without any connections? Absolutely. But why make things harder on yourself? If you thought the world of medicine was small, wait until you enter the world of a specialty.
3. Do Your Research
Like any other job, it helps to get an edge on the competition with a little digging. By being an expert on the company, the medical group, the other providers, and the administrators, you can do something no other interviewee can do quite as well.
By using this information, you have the ability to steer the conversation towards them. People love talking about themselves, and you’d be correct to think a specialist is no different. This can serve two purposes. One, it builds trust and rapport; and two, you gain a unique insight to help you better judge what it might be like working with this group.
It’s not all about schmoozing, however. Healthcare providers do not get a ton of privacy online. Without much difficulty, you can find a clinician’s accomplishments, state licenses, and other public information. That also means the negative press, publicly available court records, and state license sanctions are just a Google search away.
The issues surrounding these topics can fill libraries worth of textbooks. Even the presence of one or more of these factors does not necessarily paint a full (or fair) picture of an individual practitioner.
However, don’t discount your gut if you think you see several red flags or get a bad feeling about a provider or group. All clinicians are endowed with a special ‘spidey-sense’ that allows us to tell just how sick a patient is by merely being in the same room as them. As new clinicians, you may feel uncertain or fear using this sense. As you gain experience, it gets stronger the more you realize it was right all along. This can also be applied to other areas of life, such as job-hunting. If something is ‘off,’ you may want to rethink the particular job opportunity.
Remember that this is a two-way street, which is why clinicians should keep a clean online presence. If you don’t, you may want to work on that, or at least have a good explanation ready for anything negative in your past that comes up
4. Know Your Worth
The general salary data that many new graduates use as a reference is not always reflective of the market. Specialty compensation data is available and should be based on actual evidence and value. Most non-healthcare hiring managers are not aware of your true value and may not extend a truly equitable offer.
Consider your expected productivity, individual level of autonomy, call schedule, and procedures for which you will be responsible. How much training and support will be provided? Is it an environment conducive to professional growth?
Don’t forget that geographic location, setting (such as academic or community hospital, private practice, etc), size of the group, and other characteristics can make or break a job for an individual. All of these factors can affect the value the employer provides to you, depending on your goals. And remember the salary data is just a starting point. Both parties should stand to gain for a truly effective relationship to form.
5. Craft Your Plan
We are lucky enough to be in a great NP and PA job market, as your very own NP Career Coach told me on our recent podcast. However, we are always up against tough competition for any specific job opening.
Planning out your job search in advance can put you miles ahead of the competition.
For example, it’s always good to have an updated resume. Learn how to write a good cover letter. Practice common interview questions. Job-hunting is an entire industry you need to become familiar with. And if all that seems like too much to handle on your own, a clinician career coach can make a world of a difference to you.
Execute Your Strategy
It’s not easy to get hired in a specialty as a new clinician, but it is possible. Remember that it starts before graduation, and all your professors who harp on that are right!
Get to know other clinicians and hiring professionals in your specialty long before ever asking for a job. Networking doesn’t have to be so awkward anymore. With resources like LinkedIn, Clinician1, and other communities specifically made for healthcare professionals, it’s easier than ever to foster those connections.
Be sure to research your potential employer as thoroughly as you can. This helps you determine what kind of a match you might be there. Spend a little time now to avoid the pain of a potentially toxic environment.
With appropriate research, you can also get a better idea of the true value you bring to employers so that you can get a fair compensation arrangement. Just make sure you both come out ahead.
Once you have the foundation laid, finalize your plans to target your perfect specialty job, and be sure to check out resources from the NP Career Coach. Good luck!
Jordan G. Roberts, PA-C is a neurosurgical PA who has a passion for medical communications that goes beyond creating great content. He is a nationally recognized speaker, published scientific author, and medical podcaster. He strives to demonstrate an excellence in all things medicine that he knows every clinician is capable of achieving. He blogs at ModernMedEd where he is a medical writer and medical education consultant.