Experience Matters #illumedati

Hi everyone, it’s Medicine Mondays again. I want to talk about a relatively simple concept, but one that is probably overlooked: Experience Matters.

Stock Photo from: Pixabay

Experience Matters? Well, of course it does.

Well, yes, of course it does… but I’m not talking about it in the conventional sense of doing your 500th cholecystectomy or reading your 1000th head CT.

However, let me try to explain what I mean.

A career in medicine is kind of weird when it comes to hiring. Unlike a normal resumé that most professions use which carries a lot of information and importance, it doesn’t really carry the same importance for a practicing physician in my opinion.

For example, in other jobs/careers a resumé would be jam-packed full with education, work experience, etc. However, for physicians (outside of academia) we mostly just have one thing on our Curriculum Vitaes (CV) and that is our extended education which includes medical school, residency, and fellowship. In a sense, our residency and fellowship is our “work experience” when we were our first starting out.

In this sense, for most physicians finishing their residency of fellowship, it’s “what you see is what you get”.

Ok, so then what matters?

Experience, but not necessarily in the way you might think.

Like I said, in your last year of residency or fellowship, when you are looking for your first job, the only experience you really have is from residency/fellowship. While important, it’s not “real”. In a good job market, this doesn’t really matter because places will hire you anyways. However, in a “down market” like the one I came out in for Radiology back in 2013, it will be very difficult to differentiate yourself from all the other fellows graduating that same year.

Think about it, in a job market like that, would you prefer to hire a person who already has experience working in the “real world”, ie. outside of residency/fellowship, or would you rather take a chance on a new graduate? The answer is pretty clear. For that reason, I was very lucky to get my first job, even though it didn’t last very long.

However, getting my second job was significantly easier. I would get calls back from places that didn’t even look at my application as a fellow. The reason is pretty simple. As soon as you start working your first real job, you have real world experience. With real world experience comes real world references.



Of course, during residency/fellowship you have your references from your program director and maybe your favorite attendings. However, these do not carry the same weight as a reference as your immediate superior or from someone who works side-by-side with you day and day out in the real world.

I don’t know if there is a term for this, but I call it trading on your own name. Watch this clip from Ocean’s Eleven to understand what I mean.

As a physician you will establish your reputation in the community. It may be small, related to only your town, or it could be large covering your region. Or, if you move a lot and/or have a lot of colleagues, you reputation may be nationwide. All of that starts with, “oh that’s Dr. Smith, he’s a good doctor.”

For me, after having been at my job for only a few months, I had already established my reputation at my little hospital.

Was I the best radiologist in the entire world? No.

However, did I do a good job and help my colleagues? Was I respected by my colleagues? Yes.

As such, my boss, the President, would be my first professional reference, along with one of my colleagues who essentially worked side-by-side with me.

So then what happened?

Getting emails back and calls back for interviews this second time around was significantly easier. It’s kind of like the difference between the amount of energy needed to get a car to move versus to keep a car in motion. Once you have experience, your car is already in motion, you don’t have to jumpstart it anymore.

After some interviews, I landed the job I am currently in. Which I really like and don’t ever plan to leave.

However, all of my other co-fellows, senior residents, and junior residents have also moved on into their own jobs. Medicine is a small world, especially when you narrow it down to your specialty and your generation. As such, everyone once in awhile one of my colleagues will contact me to let me know of a new job that isn’t advertised and probably won’t be advertised.

This is what I mean by trading on your own name. The relationships you’ve built over your career matter. When someone speaks for you they are putting their reputation on the line. For example, let’s say I was to speak for a junior resident of mine, “Dr. Smith”, and he ended up getting that job. However, let’s say things didn’t work out.

Do you think my reference would carry any weigh with this group anymore?

I see, so professional references are important.

Yes. However, you must also remember that you shouldn’t burn your bridges.

People leave and take new jobs all the time, for whatever reason. However, as a physician, you need to provide a courtesy to your current job. The “two weeks notice” thing doesn’t work for physicians. To hire and credential a new doctor to take your place will usually take a minimum of 2-3 months. If you leave a job without a reasonable notice, you will be leaving your colleagues scrambling to cover you.

Don’t do this.

It doesn’t matter how good of a physician you were or how much the patients and staff loved you. If you leave your previous job without a reasonable notice you will have burnt that bridge. When it comes time for references, your colleagues won’t remember how good you were, they will only remember that you left them high and dry.

Now, sometimes it won’t be up to you. Your new job wants you to start ASAP or you have to move, or a combination of both. Either way, make sure you keep your current job aware of what is going on and that you will try your best to help ease the transition.

You would expect the same courtesy from your colleagues if they were leaving. It’s just the right thing to do.

So then, like I said, Experience Matters.

However, like I said, I wasn’t talking about it in the conventional sense of doing your 500th cholecystectomy or reading your 1000th head CT.

Your work experience (outside of academia) is mostly based off of your professional references for those positions.

A line that says “Staff Radiologist, ABC Medical Center – 4 years” only says where you’ve been.

A professional reference from Chief of Radiology at ABC Medical Center explains who you are, what you’ve been doing, and what you can do.

Wait, what about for Academia?

For academia, they have “real” Curriculum Vitaes which should list their ongoing research and any other academic accomplishments. Additionally, where they have been and who they have worked with will matter more because the realm of academic medicine is very, very small, especially when it comes to individual specialties and subspecialties.

However, make no mistake, professional references are still of utmost importance.


Experience Matters:

A physician with 1 day, or 1 hour, or even 1 minute of experience trading on their own name is completely different than one fresh out of residency/fellowship.

As physicians, our work experience is more or less just a list of where we’ve been. Our professional references are our work experience.

Don’t burn bridges. Two weeks notice doesn’t exist for physicians.

Medicine Mondays Sensei


Agree? Disagree? Questions, Comments and Suggestions are welcome.

You don’t need to fill out your email address, just write your name or nickname.

Like these posts? Make sure to subscribe to get email alerts!

Share this: