How to Recession-proof Your Medical Career

By Guest Writer, Calvin Bruce of Jackson & Coker

The effects of the current recession in the United States are well known to everyone working in the healthcare industry. Both commercial and medical news sources have carefully documented the toll that the economic downturn has had in virtually every sector of the healthcare community. [1]
Professionals in the medical field—whether physicians, nurses, allied health workers, technicians or other hospital personnel—need to ask themselves several important questions:
1.      How safe is my current job?
2.      How can I make it more secure?
3.      What happens if I lose my job?
Employment experts have estimated that in today’s uncertain economy, one out of three workers is at risk of losing their jobs. Those in the medical field with appropriate education, licensing, certification, skills in demand and a good work history are certainly less at risk than others less prepared to “weather the storm.”
On the flip side, what can forward-thinking healthcare professionals do proactively to safeguard their career? The following pragmatic suggestions are offered for concerned professionals who want to make their current job more secure—or prepare for landing another job quickly if they do get the proverbial pink slip.
Mend fences in the workplace
When hospitals or other healthcare organizations contemplate staff reductions, they think first of all of who is most dispensable. Not only do they carefully consider clinical or technical skills and overall job performance; they also take note of personality traits and how well a given employee relates to co-workers.
For this reason, it is important to mend fences with individuals who can have some say regarding your perceived worth to the organization, and thus your possible longevity with them. Obviously, this begins with your immediate
supervisor, who will be asked how valuable you are to the team. Subsequently (if your job is in jeopardy), they will confer with fellow team members to determine how much of a “team player” you are and how they perceive your overall contribution.
In this context, if co-workers have some sort of longstanding beef with you over actual or perceived slights or longstanding grievances, they may voice information—directly or by strong “hints”—that can be detrimental to your employment situation.
Simply put, if you have made any enemies in the medical office or laboratory, do what you can to smooth ruffled feathers. This doesn’t mean changing your core personality or groveling at the feet of anyone. However, common sense dictates   that you make every effort to work with colleagues in a more collegial and harmonious manner. It would be quite ironic if someone whom you had issues with were a determining cause of your departure from the company.
To gain a better perspective concerning your key personality traits, if you’re a physician, you might consider taking a brief “DISC” self-assessment. To view a sample of an Extended DISC Personal Analysis that appears in the Jackson & Coker Industry Report, click here. This exercise in self-discovery provides participants with personal insights on how they can better interact with their peers in a clinical setting. 
Stay on your “A” game
This is sports lingo for doing your best and working at peek productivity. A downturn economy automatically creates a certain level of stress and anxiety among those who are gainfully employed, let alone those who find themselves pounding the pavement.
Speculating about what might happen should not interfere with day-to-day job performance. As along as you work in your current position, you are expected to give your employer full-time dedication and service. Being mentally or emotionally distracted detracts from that commitment.
To maintain a high level of personal productivity, focus on what you do best—and how you can help others do their jobs better. At the end of the workday or shift, what you have accomplished will speak for you. Putting it another way, at all times your actions and attitude are being observed by those in your group or team, as well as others who only tangentially work alongside you. If you’re doing
the best you can, that will be noticed. If your effectiveness in your medical role diminishes, that will also be brought to the attention of influential parties. 
Improve your skills, acquire new knowledge
Skills improvement and knowledge acquisition are important at any stage of one’s professional career and in any economic circumstance, but all the more so when companies are cutting back on staff. Among those deemed more dispensable than others are healthcare workers who have not updated their skills or significantly increased their job-related knowledge base in recent time.
On the other hand, healthcare professionals who make every attempt to stay abreast of new technology, methods and procedures are wisely taking steps to insure their career success, no matter where they offer their services.
Pragmatically speaking, make sure that you are up-to-date with CME or CEU credits, take full advantage of in-service training, always remain a “student of the industry,” and enhance your professional development in appropriate ways.
Online distance learning (ODL) offers numerous opportunities for self-enrichment in areas that impact professional development. Here are some helpful Internet resources that promote ODL:
  • Distance Learning: Online Courses in Healthcare


  • E-Learns Express: Health & Medicine
  • Clinical Education (Online Distance Learning)
  • CMEweb Courses: Health Care
  • Distance Learning: Medical Diagnostics

Taking practical steps to become more knowledgeable, skillful and effective in your profession is smart in terms of surviving a downturn economy that has
resulted in job loss among millions of workers who “never thought it could happen to me.”
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
This is good advice at all times, particularly when uncertainties swirl around jobs in most healthcare sectors. It behooves everyone to be as optimistic as possible, especially as the current Administration informs us that “there are glimmers of hope on the economic horizon.” Nevertheless, it doesn’t pay to stick your head in the sand like an ostrich and pretend that you will escape the economic downturn unscathed. Instead, it’s smart to hypothesize about various scenarios that might present themselves.
--You are offered the option of taking a pay cut to keep your current position.
--You are asked to work in some other hospital department or medical group.
--You are laid off with a strong possibility of regaining your job.
--Although you keep your job, significant numbers of co-workers are laid off over a period of time.
The first two options are certainly more tolerable than the others. Not being victimized during recessionary times means that you are prepared to deal with any occupational eventuality. To prepare for “the worst,” take to heart these steps:
  • Constantly network with professional colleagues in your field who are likely to know of upcoming job openings.
  • Update your resume or CV, including contact information of persons whom you can most likely use as references.
  • Give some thought to possible relocation, keeping all options open.
  • Try to get a feel from your supervisor as to how secure your job is.
  • Keep eyes and ears open concerning other possible opportunities within your hospital or medical organization. 
  • Test the market if you feel your job is in jeopardy; i.e., job hunt confidentially.
In short, no matter how much you love your work and enjoy the people around you, it’s in your best interest to do what you have to do to protect your interests and career.
Job hunt confidentially
Perhaps it’s time to “read the handwriting on the wall” and job hunt confidentially. To avoid being a victim of the recession in terms of possibly facing a lengthy layoff, it may be advisable to consider investigating other career options while you are gainfully employed.
Considering the current economic situation, it’s important to be extra cautious when job hunting. If a financially stressed organization finds out that a valued employee is job hunting, they are more prone to put that person on the “hit list” of projected staff reductions.

In launching a job search, by all means exercise utmost confidentiality whenever you scout the market for new opportunities. Here are some practical pointers:
  • Use your home computer for transmitting your CV or resume to a prospective employer. It is both inappropriate and highly risky to use company equipment or resources for submitting your credentials to another medical group.
  • In worst-case scenarios, employees have actually lost their current positions when their superiors learned they were job hunting. Their justification for termination is: “If you’re unhappy and feel it necessary to look for another position, we will give you opportunity to do so full-time.
  • Similarly, communicate with recruiters or HR personnel via your cell phone, not an office phone. Not only should you seek privacy in discussing career matters, it is wise not to discuss anything where “the walls have ears.” Even simple, innocuous conversations that remotely suggest job hunting can lead to unfortunate consequences.
  • Interview discreetly. By all means, don’t draw attention to what you are doing. For instance, if you are accustomed to dressing in a certain manner—such as relaxed garb on “casual Fridays”—it is inadvisable to show up for work in a suit or interviewing outfit that day. You will stand out like a sore thumb. Instead, keep your interviewing clothes in your car and, if necessary, change somewhere along the way before visiting a prospective new employer.  
In job hunting, keep in mind that you can never accept nor decline a job offer that is not extended. The goal is to sell yourself effectively to a prospective employer
so that they clearly recognize your talents and abilities and want to bring you on board. At that point, you can make the decision as to whether you wish to join
their ranks.
Absent a crystal ball, no one can accurately predict exactly what will take place with regard to the U.S. economy and its impact on the health care industry.
However, forward-thinking professionals do not operate in an information vacuum and react passively to “whatever comes my way.”
To weather the recessionary storm, take all necessary steps to safeguard your current situation. Realistically assessing the situation, make some
determination as to what you need to do to prepare for the future. Hypothesizing what can occur positively or negatively, take the necessary steps to make
yourself marketable in the event you are forced to passively job hunt while maintaining your current role—or actively job hunt if you are laid off.
Staying focused and productive—while maintaining a positive attitude—is the best way to spend your time and energy. Most things we worry about do not occur;
so plan on keeping your job and advancing in your career. When the current recession tapers down, you will have benefitted from these practical steps for
safeguarding your livelihood—which is definitely priority #1.
Calvin Bruce serves as Senior Writer for Jackson & Coker and managing editor of the Jackson & Coker Industry Report. 
[1] See “Health Care and the Economy—Can Hospitals Afford a Recession?” published in the Jackson & Coker Industry Report, Volume 2, Number 1 (January 2009).