Physicians are, by nature, excellent taskmasters. When given a defined set of goals to complete, whether it be a list of patients to round on, a target GPA for admission to medical school, or procedures to complete by graduation, we face it head-on with our tool kit at the ready. This often leaves us vulnerable when faced with more nebulous tasks assignments that lack defined parameters. Networking, the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts, is defined by its vagueness. However, as all physicians know, reputation and relationships in medicine are everything. Read on to review some tips and tools for surviving and thriving in this arena.
Use what you know
One of the keys to successful patient care is the ability of physicians to work as part of a health care team. If your complicated patient with multiple comorbidities is in need of urgent surgery, you don’t simply schedule them for the OR. You reach out to your colleagues to optimize that patient’s cardiac, respiratory, and general medical risk; you continue to work collaboratively with those colleagues toward a common goal: good patient outcomes with a successful discharge home. Now apply these principles to the art of networking.
According to Harvard Business Review, focusing on the opportunity to learn something new and finding a common interest with those you are thrown into a situation with (like our sick patient scenario) are two keys to not only getting through but doing well in the networking arena. Per their review, it is not unusual that meaningful, long-lasting relationships are often forged when working on in a high-stakes arena under less than ideal circumstances.
As a resident, it’s not uncommon that you will encounter these situations. How many codes have you run? How about speeding unstable patients to the OR or making a snap decision on what kind of intervention is needed in the ER? Not only are these decisions made with your peers, but they are also made under the watchful eye of your teachers, putting you and your abilities on display. These scenarios prepare you for being in that teacher role. However, they also help establish the skill set you need to survive less intense but no less important social events that help you grow your professional support network. The ability to adapt, work as part of a team, find value in someone else’s expertise, and work toward a common goal are all abilities with which you are very familiar; you use them every day when caring for patients. By applying these tools to grow your support network, you are working smarter, not harder to grow your professional relationships.
You’ve spent years of your life preparing for each and every patient encounter you face on a daily basis. You’ve memorized risk factors, atypical presentations common disorders, all why having a differential diagnosis in your back pocket that allows you to identify those “zebras” when they come walking through the door. The same level of preparation should go into networking and your search strategy. You would never dream of leaving a patient’s well-being to chance; why should you put any less effort into your professional (and, in turn, personal) well-being? One of the simplest, oldest ways to do this is to practice your “elevator speech.” The term harkens from the business school strategy of making a pitch for yourself while riding the elevator with a potential employer. This speech is intended to be impactful, informative, and a brief 30 seconds (the amount of time one typically rides form the top of the building to the bottom). Even in the day of digital media and social networking, this is a valuable tool. The way in which you craft your speech can be used in multiple forums: online, email, text, or, most importantly, in person, thus providing you an opportunity to again put this work to use in a smarter, not harder, manner.
Making your pitch and using the 5 “Ws”
One of the first clinical skills taught to medical students is how to take an effective history. No matter what mnemonic you learned, you were grilled on how to obtain historical information from a patient that was accurate, time-based, and detailed yet concise. This expertise is not unique to medicine and, in fact, is a play-off of the very basic tenets of journalism: using the “5 W’s” to gather information from a source. Again, here you can work smarter, not harder. In this instance, the ideal 30-second Elevator Speech takes those “5 W’s” of journalism and uses them to craft a clear, concise, and powerful picture of who you are as a physician and a professional. In review, those “5 W’s” are as follows:
- Who you are
- What you are looking for
- When you are looking for employment
- Where you would like to be (geography and position in the organization both apply here)
- Why you are searching
The key to making this work as a communication tool for giving (instead of gathering) information is by creating a timeline: begin with the past, describe your present, outline your desired future, and request information (ideas, opinions, and recommendations) from the person you are making your pitch to. And remember, practice makes perfect. If you are using this in a written format, have someone you respect and trust read it and give their honest feedback. If you plan on using this in a social situation, again, practice! Whether you’re saying it to that same close confidant or your own reflection, you want to be comfortable with your message. Just as you likely spent hours practicing your history taking skills with your classmates, invest time and effort on this endeavor as well. With a little practice, you’ll soon be on your way to perfecting the art of networking and moving your search strategy forward on your adventure in medicine.
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