Physician careers are in a state of flux. Med school debt is skyrocketing, burnout has hit epidemic levels and a traditionally stable career path has been upset by complex administrative challenges, new groups of patients seeking care and fast-changing technology.
While to some the outlook is bleak, for many physicians shake-ups have meant new opportunities and a chance to take a fresh look at their careers. Doctors are finding new horizons in education, insurance, consulting, writing, law and even tech startups.
This shift has meant the need to take a different perspective on professional networking for doctors. Many of yesterday's rules have held steady, but with rising opportunities and new methods of networking, physicians who are interested in exploring new career options will need to rethink the way they build their networks.
Why professional networking for doctors matters more than ever
Doctors have more complex professional questions to answer today. How do I drive more patients to my office? When should I retire? Should I join that group practice? Should I consider a second career? What about that investment opportunity I've been thinking about?
None of those are questions any physician should try to answer or address alone — this is where the value of professional networking for doctors kicks in. Connecting with other physicians and professionals in other fields allows you to gain perspective while building the powerful network you'll need to reach your goals.
Networking will create connections today that can make a critical difference later on. Let's say you've been running your solo endocrinology practice for 20 years. Burnout is creeping in, and you've been considering early retirement or shifting either into education or partnering with an old friend who's launching a medical device startup.
You know a few medical educators, but you're completely new to the world of startups and entrepreneurship. How do you gain insight into lifestyle changes, risks, challenges and smart financial planning? The short answer is networking, and with all the options available, you need a strategy that matches today's networking opportunities.
4 Tips for networking
Professional networking for doctors is multifaceted, and your approach to it should be the same. You'll need a mix of deliberate and organic opportunities that align with your career goals and address your curiosities.
1. Know where to network
Professional events geared toward physicians are still valuable, but in today's professional environment, you'll need to mix things up to augment classic tactics like volunteering and local, in-person professional events.
Consider branching out of the clinical side of medicine and into other healthcare-focused areas like administration and technology. At the same time, don't be afraid to step outside of healthcare altogether and into spaces where your status as a doctor is rare and in high demand. You can learn a lot at healthcare tech and startup conferences, but you'll get an entirely different perspective and meet a wide range of people at events and organizations that don't have a healthcare slant.
Also, remember to mix in-person activities with online efforts. Social networks dedicated to professional networking are exploding, creating new opportunities for doctors every day. Sites like LinkedIn are a staple, but don't forget smaller and more targeted sites like Sermo and Doximity to meet new doctors and even refresh old networks.
2. Know whom to connect with
You might first be inclined to focus on other doctors, but it's important to consider your goals.
If, for example, you're looking for the stability of a corporate paycheck, you might want to prioritize connections with businesspeople at insurance companies. Keep in mind, though, that anyone can be a valuable connection. Even the staff at another physician's office can help you increase referrals, so don't limit yourself. You never know what hospital administrator or innovative founder might be the key to the next phase in your career.
3. Know how to follow up
One rule that hasn't changed is the importance of following up. Nurturing a connection through follow-up is one of the best ways to stick out in the mind of a new or even an old contact.
This used to mean a phone call, letter or lunch — all still great ideas. But today, social networking adds another layer of potential to feed connections and keep your network healthy. On social channels, you can share your thoughts and goals and even engage with questions and comments from contacts you'd like to get to know better.
If you've been making contacts at events, practice good follow-up habits:
Circle back within 24 hours
Offer to meet up in person or jump on a call or video conference
Connect on LinkedIn
Keep these up, especially in the long term, and your network will become an invaluable career resource.
4. Know how to grow
If you're rethinking your career in a way that involves networking, that means you're looking at professional growth. We live in an age where continuous professional development, even for physicians, is mandatory. This type of growth means new investment in professional curiosity and learning from everyone you meet.
Through your network, you will encounter a wealth of people with experience and knowledge that extend beyond your world of understanding. So, share your interests and goals, but also ask questions and listen closely. As a bonus, people remember you better if you express interest in them, so a few questions can make any connection more viable.
Professional networking for doctors is in some ways a new challenge, but any physician who is clear about their goals and willing to invest in their network can expect to find a world of professional opportunity open up in front of them.