I learned early on that finding a job in pathology was very different from finding a job in other specialties. While my husband, a family medicine doctor, received innumerable emails from recruiters and phone calls from practices offering large sign-on bonuses, my phone was silent and my email inbox was empty. For incipient pathologists, things are different. We have to be proactive in reaching out to employers even though many pathology practices are actively looking for new hires. Baby Boomers are retiring, and as a result, practices are expanding with increasing needs for tissue diagnoses. The problem is that many prospective employers do not advertise their needs. They base their search on word of mouth.
I feel fortunate that I was successful in finding a job in St. Louis early in the process. I began researching job opportunities soon after I completed my board exams in June of 2015, the year I began my hematopathology fellowship. The first major decision was whether to work in a private practice or in academia. I chose private practice. I then updated my CV to include my training, research, teaching, and involvement in pathology societies/committees. I also wrote a generic cover letter explaining who I was and why I wanted to practice in St. Louis, knowing I would personalize this cover letter with each application. Early on, I also asked four attendings if they would write me a letter of recommendation. Doing this early in the process allowed them time to write a strong letter.
As I had limited my job search to a single city, I knew it was imperative that I start the process early and contact each and every practice in the St. Louis metro area. The problem I faced at this point was finding the contact information for the medical directors of the practices in town. This information was not readily available via a Google search. To find this information, I asked my attendings and ultimately reached out to past residents and fellows of my program asking their help in passing along my information to the president of their group. My program coordinator was able to provide me with their contact information, as she keeps "tabs" on past trainees. This proved to be a great way of reaching out to pathologists in the area, as they were very helpful and provided me with information concerning the needs of their practice and the correct person to contact. In the instances that the group was not currently hiring, they were very helpful in suggesting other groups in town that may be hiring and provided contact information.
Within three months after beginning this process, I had contacted all of the presidents of the private practice groups in St. Louis and secured interviews at three practices that were in need of a hematopathologist. By October of that year, I had accepted an offer at the practice I liked the most.
While my experience may differ from what you’ll experience as an applicant, I think the following are key in successfully finding a job in pathology:
- Start early. Most practices know their needs earlier than you think, especially when it comes to people retiring. They plan this out years in advance. I would suggest starting a year in advance.
- Choose your desired practice setting (ie, academia vs private practice). Decide where you would like to practice and make a timeline for when you will expand your search. I knew I was limiting my search to a small geographic area, so I started early. My plan was to focus on a specific area for the first 4 to 6 months; if I was unsuccessful in this period, I would have applied more broadly
- Decide how much anatomic pathology (AP) and clinical pathology (CP) you truly want to do. Some practices are more CP, and if CP is something you don't enjoy, take this into account when reviewing such a practice
- Be honest in your cover letter about the type of practice you would like and why you chose that geographic area. Customize your cover letter to each specific practice
- Ask three or four of your attendings for recommendation letters. Ask early in the process to allow your attendings time to write a thoughtful recommendation. Try to identify attendings who you worked with on a research project or those with whom you developed a strong professional relationship. Even if your chosen attendings are not well known, a personalized recommendation letter from an attending that sings the specific praises of your character is better than a generic letter from a well-known pathologist
- Contact past trainees of your program. Your program coordinator should have a list with updated contact information. Use this to contact past trainees practicing in areas you are interested in. You will be surprised by their willingness to help and by the vast amount of information you can gain by talking to people who have already been through the process of finding a job. Jobs posted on major pathology websites (eg, Pathology Outlines) are likely to be bombarded with applications. Use the list above to contact someone at the practice or in the area and ask them to put in a good word for you
- If you are applying for an academic job, start on your job talk early. Make sure you have a thorough understanding of your research. You can ask your attendings if they know of anyone in the institution you're applying to. If they do, see if they will contact them on your behalf
- Do as much research as you can about a practice or institution before your interview. Again, your attendings are an excellent resource. They have a wealth of information about other practices and can give you tips on the personalities you may meet during your interview
- Lastly, do not get discouraged. Statistics show that most pathology trainees are successful in finding a job within a year, and the majority of the trainees find a position in the geographical area they want
Dr. Angie Foster received her undergraduate degree in Microbiology and General Business Administration at Mississippi State University. She then received her medical degree at University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2011. In 2015, she completed her AP/CP residency training at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, before continuing her training with a fellowship in Hematopathology at the same institution. She is now new in practice at St. Louis Pathology Associates, Inc. at Mercy Hospital, St. Louis.