How Doctors Can Improve Their Networking Skills

JUNE 26, 2017
Heidi Moawad, MD


Networking is an important skill in the business world. Generally, because there are so many jobs available for physicians, networking is not a necessity when it comes to obtaining a good job as a physician. However, if you have your eye on a leadership role or if you are interested in searching for a non-traditional job in the medical field, then networking is a good way to get your foot in the door. 
 
Many non-traditional opportunities in the medical field are not widely advertised. Finding these types of opportunities requires creative problem solving. Often, doctors who hold leadership roles or who have non-clinical jobs explain that they were asked or invited to such positions. This can only happen if those who are hiring for such positions know you and have a strong sense of what you can bring to the table. And that often requires networking.
 
For many, networking does not come naturally. We can come off as too subtle or too direct and pushy. There are some ways to reach a happy medium. And for those for whom networking does not come naturally, it may take continued deliberate effort to maintain that happy medium. 
 
Some keys to networking are similar to the skills needed in regular socializing, which also do not come easily or naturally to everyone.  
 
Don't Obviously Collect Data While Networking
Sometimes networking is done with little time and a sense of urgency. A recruiter who says that many physicians reach out to her offers the following advice – if you find an opportunity to speak with someone whom you consider valuable or knowledgeable, you can end up in “interview mode,” searching for answers to your many questions. However, sometimes peppering potential colleagues with “fact collecting” questions can cause people to recoil.
 
Professional connections are human. Doctors don't normally let conversations flow smoothly in the clinic, instead following an agenda aimed at collecting information necessary for a medical history. In general, networking is not like a medical visit in which you need to collect pertinent data and come to a conclusion. Professional colleagues, particularly if they aren't physicians, prefer a more casual and flowing conversational pace rather than one that is data driven. 
 
Listen to the Concerns of Others
While you might feel the need to network professionally because you want to reach a better position at work or transition out of your current role completely, it is important to consider the needs of others. You can learn more by listening to the specific needs of potential colleagues than by asking pointed questions.
 
If you ask a doctor in your specialty how much money he earns, you might get some information. But if you find out that he is looking for a partner to cover another hospital in a location that you don't want to drive to – that can be a deal breaker, regardless of the numbers. On the other hand, you might learn that a medical group is looking for someone who can take care of minimally invasive procedures that senior partners aren't trained in. If that is up your alley, then the current numbers may matter less than you think because you would be doing a procedure that is an apples to oranges comparison with the other partners. 
 
Don't Try to Prove your Value Repetitively
A senior level program director offers the following advice. If you have trained in a prestigious university, or if you live in a desirable neighborhood, or if you published a peer-reviewed article, you really don't need to remind your connections repeatedly. If you are disappointed that they have not congratulated you, it is more likely that they have mixed feelings about the matter than that they didn't hear you the first or second time. If you really want someone's opinion (or praise) you can directly ask what they think about your achievement, but reiterating your achievements will likely frustrate you and will most likely not achieve what you are searching for. 
 
Connect With Others Even if You Don't Directly Gain 
A very important part of networking involves connecting with others who may have more to gain from you than you have from them. I have been pleasantly surprised and grateful on several occasions when professional connections who asked me for help were unexpectedly helpful to me. 
 
Making connections for others even when you might not stand anything to gain generally takes very little effort and can truly make a difference for people who are looking for professional direction. 
 
There Can be More than One Winner
And when it comes to networking, there can be many people who gain from the process. You wouldn't be surprised to know that as you are interviewing for jobs, a small group of peers is also looking at the same group of jobs. It benefits no one to be secretive or competitive. Often, things fall into place unexpectedly. At the current time, physicians of all specialties have many job options in most cities across America. And, seasoned physicians advise that cooperating with colleagues always works out better than competing. Networking usually results in more than one winner. 
 
Networking is a skill that few people have. Many doctors are surprised to realize how important networking is when it comes to professional success. It is important to enter into any networking opportunity without a me first attitude in order to maximize benefit for everyone- including yourself.

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