This post is the first of a three-part series entitled Setting New Providers Up for Success. 

In this post, we approach the topic from the standpoint of the resident and provide advice on how to transition from residency into a career as an attending physician. Part two shifts the focus to the hospital and addresses hiring the right prospects. Part three discusses aligning providers with facility goals.

It’s an understatement to say that as you get ready to transition from residency to your role as an attending physician, your life will change dramatically.

You will evolve from medical students to clinicians, from relying on the attendee’s advice to making clinical decisions independently, and from having others prescribe a defined curriculum to charting a career course of your own. (Or, as KevinMD put it so candidly, you're about to move from bread eater to breadwinner and from no business to KNOW business!)

Don’t let those facts intimidate you, however. Pay heed to the following advice and your transition will go much more smoothly.

Prepare to Be Both Specialist and Generalist

We said it before, whether you become an EM or HM physician, you will take care of everyone from infants to the elderly, from non-emergent conditions to severe trauma, and everyone and everything in between. You will never know what to expect in a given shift, so be prepared to manage any condition and patient you encounter.

Make Creating Positive Patient Experiences a Habit

You already know that patient satisfaction scores are tied to Medicare reimbursement and the higher the score, the better it is for the hospital. Understanding this fact means you must do all you can to ensure patients have as positive an experience as possible.

That includes doing things like treating your patients as quickly as possible; making eye contact; acknowledging family members; communicating differential diagnoses, test results, and other pertinent information using language they can understand; and taking time to answer questions to their satisfaction.

Consumerism has affected health care, so as an attending physician, you are forced to gain a good deal of customer service expertise. That’s just the way it is.

Related resource: 10 Easy Ways to Improve Patient Satisfaction in the ED

Recognize the Value of Community Participation

You are not only a member of the hospital staff but also the community the hospital serves, which is why becoming an active participant is vital.

In an article in The Hospitalist, David Grace, MD, SFHM, SVP and Group Medical Officer at SCP, remarked that community involvement leads to improved engagement, a better sense of belonging and job satisfaction, and enhanced relationships with key hospital and community stakeholders.

Dr. Grace also noted that community involvement can serve to keep one’s life in balance.

Referring to the “systolic/diastolic lifestyle” of hospitalist shifts, he said that “introducing a little bit of community and enjoyment into your downtime can also increase job satisfaction during your work time.”

Community participation does not have to be a time-consuming ordeal. Many activities involve just a few hours a week. A few examples the article cited include:

  • Volunteering at the county health department;
  • Sitting on the board of a local blood bank;
  • Working with local civic organizations;
  • Assisting with charity benefits;
  • Coaching youth sports teams;
  • Helping with community events organized by your hospital.

The list of ways you can become involved in the community is endless. Make it a point to do so.

Understand the Medical Liability System

Every doctor-patient encounter is bound by an array of legal considerations, including professional liability, malpractice, risk management, CMS requirements, informed consent, privacy — the list goes on.

Understanding the medical liability system can be challenging for young physicians just entering their medical practice, but it pays to become familiar with the many implications to limit exposure and reduce risk.

Get Used to Working Irregular Shifts

If you plan to practice emergency medicine full time, expect to work three to five shifts per week, but not all at the same time. For instance, you might work a 6 a.m. shift one day, start at 3 p.m. the next, and overnight the next.

This irregular schedule will wreak havoc on your biological clock, so compensate with plenty of sleep, exercise, and a proper diet.

Avoid Burnout at All Costs

Physician burnout is not a new problem and one we have addressed before. However, an emerging trend called "administrative burnout" is one you need to be aware of to protect yourself from falling into its trap.

Research from the Advisory Board says that the administrative burden of medicine as a leading driver of physician burnout and offers the following insight to explain the rationale:

"Over the last several years, our experts have noticed a pattern emerging among physicians... Today's physicians spend the vast majority of their time looking at screens — whether they are responding to messages in the patient portal, ordering tests, or refilling medications."

(The Advisory Board created an infographic that might be worth downloading containing recommendations for hospital leadership to help physicians avoid burnout.)

Manage the Transition Like a Pro

Yes, your life after med school will change in numerous way post-residency, and the items outlined above are far from exhaustive. It’s likely you will face new challenges at every turn along your career path. That said, following these tips from Dan Newhaller, DO, SVP, Group Medical Officer at Schumacher Clinical Partners, will help ensure you make the transition without a hitch:

Keep Calm and Don’t Get Overwhelmed

"Although you are taking on a big task, refuse to become overwhelmed or frightened," Dr. Newhaller said. "Draw upon your years of training and the knowledge that you retained during medical school and residency and know that you are equipped to handle any situation that arises.”

Get to Know Members of the Staff

"Building positive relationships with the people you interact with on a daily basis is vital to your career success," he said. "Learn more about the attending physicians, nurses, medical directors, administration, office manager, and other staff. Get to know them on a personal level by finding out where they are from and how long they’ve been at the facility."

Maintain a Healthy Work-life Balance

"All too often, I see newly graduated residents burn out in their first year of post-residency because they did not maintain a positive balance," Dr. Newhaller noted.

"It is easy to get caught up in all of the job offers thrown at you and extra shifts that can be picked up on the side. But don’t underestimate the importance of making sure your work life is stable, meeting your needs to make a living and pay back your student loans."

One other tip…

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

You’re not expected to know everything, so don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues for their opinion. Their years of experience can prove to be a treasure trove of information, advice, encouragement, and understanding. After all, they, too, were once in your shoes.

Another resource to rely on is SCP’s Residency Resource Team, which helps new physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants embrace the transition from their respective residency program. Learn more about the tools and services our Residency Resource Team has to offer.