Cementing relationships with residents

November 1, 2001
Robert DuPont

Pharmaceutical Representative

There is a great need (and an opportunity) to help younger physicians during the crucial beginning of their careers.

This may come as a surprise, but according to the American Medical Association's Physician Workforce Information Report, almost one in three residents in internal medicine is "experiencing significant difficulty finding a preferred position." Recruiters have recently noted that "berths for family practitioners, internists and pediatricians have become particularly scarce along the Eastern seaboard. [Overall], coastal cities - preferred by many job-seekers - are saturated with doctors, as are most cosmopolitan areas." And what are GME (residency) programs doing to help their residents? Curiously, not much - beyond posting jobs on the bulletin board or writing letters of reference. Unlike M.B.A., J.D., and other professional programs, which have organized and active job placement services for their graduating students as well as alumni, GME programs offer little or nothing to residents during their last year of training. There is a great need (and an opportunity) to help younger physicians during this crucial transition, and this is one area where drug reps can play a vital role.

There are three tangible things a drug rep can do: 1) sponsor a seminar series; 2) provide simple-but-powerful tools for the job search; and 3) solicit help from other drug reps within the company to find and identify job opportunities matching a candidate's preferences. The cost for these activities is minimal, but the return is great: the chance to build and sustain a relationship cemented by a genuine desire to help.

Seminar series

Whether through a series or one seminar, there is much to learn about the process of transitioning from residency to reality. The following topics are germane:


• How to find a job in a tight market;


• How to interview for the best fit;


• How to negotiate compensation; and


• How to work with an attorney.

All of these topics could be covered in a two-hour seminar, which could be held in one session or over two consecutive days. The setting does not have to be opulent; in fact, the opposite is true. The ideal venue is a conference room or classroom - both fitting the nature of the task at hand. Remember, it takes work to find work. In other words, there is more to this agenda than consuming a gourmet meal and "listening" to the pitch, then dashing for the exit. Who knows, residents might just stick around after dessert, given that the topics are near and dear to each of them, especially in light of the anxiety generated by heavy student loans, questionable job prospects and uncertain compensation.

Hosting a seminar, of course, is nothing new. There are a number of speakers one could book for a seminar or workshop, although there may not be many who can knowledgeably touch upon all of the topics mentioned above. Recruiters may extol the virtues of using their firm's database of opportunities, but may remain silent on opportunities outside of their database. Financial consultants may sing the praises of disability insurance, but may know nothing about how to negotiate compensation sufficient to repay student loans. Not only is it difficult to find speakers who can talk about all of these subjects; it's also difficult to measure their impact. Speakers come and go, but one never knows afterward whether the talk was useful. Unless, of course, something is offered – beyond a scrumptious meal and a wicked dessert – that requires legitimate follow-up.

Transition tools

There are three follow-up tools that drug reps can offer residents during their job search. Each requires the drug rep to become personally involved in seeing to it that each resident completes a simple form to collect information used to generate a custom tool. Once the tools are fashioned, the drug rep has another opportunity to meet with the resident to present the tools and explain how one or all of them can be used in the job search process.

The first tool is a valid and reliable learning instrument used to delineate how a person tends to behave in various situations. Usually the situation or focus is a work environment. The tool takes 10 minutes to complete and results in a 15-page profile that describes with uncanny accuracy one's strengths and weaknesses, preferred working environment, behavior in conflict, and a host of other behaviors that a resident would do well to know in preparation for a successful interview. What are interviews, really, but an exploration of a candidate's behavior?

The second tool is used to create a professionally prepared résumé, along with cover letter templates, business cards, fax cover sheets and letterhead – all of which can be delivered to a resident in hard copy or electronic form. These can be used throughout a physician's career, saving time and money.

The third tool is a simple budget of estimated financial information that residents can use to determine what impact student loans will have on their "bottom line" for purposes of negotiating fair and adequate compensation, as well as applying for loan consolidation or a home mortgage. The budget would be professionally prepared with tables, graphs and recommendations.

Bear in mind that each of these tools is unique to each resident's situation, and therefore more meaningful and useful than a general tip or a passing suggestion picked up in a seminar. Bear in mind, also, that it is imperative that the personal, professional and financial data used to fashion these tools be treated with the highest confidence. That a resident would share this information with a drug rep is a positive sign that their relationship is one built upon trust and respect.

A vital network

Given the size and extent of pharmaceutical sales forces, the potential exists to tap into a sales force's intimate knowledge of a group or practicing physician's need to add or replace an associate. It would be easy to ask residents where they wish to practice and what their preferences are, followed by the promise that if any of your colleagues (local, regional or national) know of such an opportunity, you will inform the resident. I'm not suggesting that drug reps become physician recruiters: Their role can simply be one of a messenger sending or receiving information that may or may not be useful. It's up to the resident to explore and verify the opportunity, just as it's up to the employer to verify the physician's credentials and preferences. Still, it may be possible to find opportunities beyond the reach of recruiters in some prime locations along the coasts and near metropolitan areas, where needs always exist but may not be known. Finding such an opportunity would almost assuredly endear a drug rep to a physician for a long time to come, all with a quick phone call or e-mail message.

Offering value

There has been much controversy lately about the pharmaceutical industry's accountability and marketing practices. Some of the charges are deserved, especially the more egregious ones involving family visits to theme parks or pizza parlors. Most, however, are not. Pharmaceutical companies sponsor many continuing medical education programs, because academic medical centers and medical societies are not funding medical board mandates for CME. Likewise, GME programs are failing to prepare residents for the business side of practicing medicine, that is, the transition from academe to the real world of managed care, income distribution and medical group dynamics. Drug reps have a chance to offer a helping hand, a genuine opportunity to provide guidance for residents in transition – which is worth more than dessert and a ride on a bumper car. PR

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