Thinking about the job search like college athletics can help bring the main components into focus.

College athletics is a big business. Just think about the money brought in through the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments. Health care is a big business, too. And physicians make up some of the key drivers of the health care economic engine. So you need to play your physician job search.

Imagine if your job search process was like the NCAA basketball tournament (minus the TV coverage, cheerleaders and student bands, of course). Just like the tournament, there would be surprises, upsets and wins.

The nicknames for some colleges and universities provide a unique opportunity to analogize a physician job hunt process—and help you decide how to play

It’s time to dance

When a college basketball team makes the NCAA tournament, it is generally a time of great excitement and enthusiasm. When you can see the end of training on the horizon and is ready to start the job search, this, too, is a time of great excitement and enthusiasm (and anxiety).

Is it a bear or bull market?

In many parts of the country, the economy is sluggish or not doing well. You’d be well-served to perform economic due diligence relating to the potential opportunity in the community generally and with respect to the specific job situation. If the job opportunity is in a bear (think of these mascots: Baylor, Brown, Missouri State or Northern Colorado) market, be wary of long-term promises being made and get as much certainty as possible.

By contrast, if you’re taking a job at the time of a bull market (University of South Florida), think about short-term opportunities while things are going well.

Are you being diplomatic?

Act like an owl (Florida Atlantic, Rice and Temple), an animal that symbolizes wisdom, by being smart about your employment opportunities.

After all, an employment contract is not an opportunity to ram your opinions onto an employer—or vice-versa. The successful conclusion to an employment agreement negotiation is a win-win. An employer or prospective physician employee who acts like a ram (Fordham, Rhode Island and Colorado State) is unlikely to have long-term success, and their legacy and inability to maintain stability will likely suffer.

Consider the environment

Depending on the economic circumstances, you may be well-served to act like a spartan (Michigan State, Norfolk State and South Carolina Upstate) and act a bit self-restrained and frugal with respect to your contract demands and expectations. If you’re considering an opportunity unlikely to be the “forever” job, negotiate accordingly. This may include seeking a shorter termination notice when the “ideal” job presents itself and not seeking every perk or benefit.

Consider the team

There are plusses and minuses to acting like an eagle (Boston College, Eastern Michigan, Morehead State). When an eagle is hunting its prey, it must be fearless and tenacious. When negotiating an employment agreement, you must understand your own personal and professional objectives and the employer’s professional objectives. But tenacity is a double-edged sword. The goal of an employment contract negotiation is to get the employment contract negotiated and not leave the employer forever annoyed at you.

Grab the opportunity

Being strategic and swooping in like a hawk (Lehigh or St. Joseph’s) can be to your advantage. Knowing and understanding the employment marketplace both from the employer’s perspective and your own personal agenda can help you determine opportunities that are good, great—or those to avoid. Reasons to avoid a job could be regular turnover in the position, lack of an opportunity to advance, shaky financial circumstances, poor management or a work/life balance that is inconsistent with your expectations.

Know what you’ll fight for

It can be ok to act a bit like a bulldog (Georgia, Butler, Mississippi State), but only on the issues that are your most important priorities and the biggest dealbreakers. Know what these issues are in advance and be flexible during the course of the negotiations. It is critical to understand when to back off during a negotiation and when polite persistence can help you achieve your objectives.

Be mindful to ensure your prospective employer does not view you as a wildcat (Arizona, Kentucky, Northwestern, Villanova).

By springtime, most physicians in their last year of training will have finalized and signed their employment agreement or be deep in negotiations. Matching your opportunities to your goals and priorities is critical to your success and career advancement.

Though it is highly unlikely that television cameras will capture you signing your employment agreement or that you’ll cut down nets to celebrate this professional achievement (a dinner with family and close friends should suffice), cherish the joy and the sacrifices you’ve made to achieve your next role.


BRUCE ARMON (bruce.armon@saul. com) is a partner and chair of the health law group at Saul Ewing LLP (saul. com). Bruce is acutely aware of college mascots, as he will have children who are a bulldog (Yale), bear (Washington University in St. Louis) and panther (Middlebury) in college in August .