When Should You Start Looking for a Job?


Andrew Jensen, MD, MBE | Elizabeth Dennis, MD | Cory Smith, MD

January 27, 2021


Landing a plane is an incredible feat. Pilots must weigh numerous variables simultaneously including wind speed and direction, air speed, weight of the plane, length of the runway, and countless others all to safely land in the correct spot. Looking for a job after residency or fellowship can oftentimes feel very similar. Multiple variables must be considered including: academic or private practice; small or large group; small or large city; and myriad other features. Today we focus the blog on one specific topic: When Should You Start Looking for a Job? The short answer is: It’s never too early.  

Most residents will start looking for a job during the 5th year of residency or early during the fellowship year. This allows time to answer many of the questions that must be taken into consideration to know which job you want. Most residents will know by their last year of residency if they want an academic or private job, and fellowship can also help determine how subspecialized you will be in your field. For example, if you are doing a sports fellowship and find that you don’t enjoy hip arthroscopy, you will purposely avoid jobs looking for hip arthroscopists.

One size does not fit all when discussing the job search start time, however. Some may start looking for jobs during their 2nd-4th years of residency, but this typically requires a commitment to a very specific job or a more general approach to your first few years of practice taking whatever comes in the door. Some positives of starting the search early include easing the stress of the job search later in residency or fellowship. Also, some groups provide stipends for residents who sign contracts early in the process. Negatives include not investigating multiple practices to determine best fit and the potential of the job changing given the number of years between signing the contract and starting. Also, motivation may be difficult on rotations not within your future scope of practice. Overall, I think this applies to a small number of residents who should seek jobs early in the process.

Then, there are those who may have already decided that they wish to practice in their hometown or that they wish to live in a particular city no matter the job that awaits them. Others may have a commitment to a state or county due to scholarship requirements. In this situation, starting the job search and discussion early may behoove you to 1) Ensure you have an opportunity in that particular place; and 2) Potentially receive some additional income as a bonus for committing to a practice early.

One final variable that needs to be discussed is job availability. Given the current state of our economy during a pandemic may cause some physicians to delay retirement. This could in turn limit the pool of available jobs narrowing the job search. If this is a concern to you and your family, or if you know in advance that you are seeking employment in a specific area, this may be cause for beginning the job search earlier than your peers.

In conclusion, when to begin and end your job search is ultimately a personal choice with many moving parts. Most residents will start the search in their final year of residency or during their fellowship year, but this can be variable. This decision should consider your geographic wishes (your and your partner), practice wishes (private practice, academic, privademic, employed model); and ultimately the availability of a job where you can land. Much like pilots, a surgeon must be able to identify and factor in all important variables before a decision. Make sure you account for these when beginning your job search to ensure a smooth landing at your final destination!


DISCLOSURES: Dr. Dennis This individual reported nothing to disclose Dr. Jensen AAOS: Board or committee member Dr. Smith This individual reported nothing to disclose.

Read the AAOS Code of Conduct for Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE.

Copyright© 2021 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons


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