Pro Tips for Every CT Surgeon Searching for that First Job—Part I

By Nahush A. Mokadam, MD | July 26, 2022

PART I: PREPARATION

Congratulations, you are nearing the end of your training and now can see the light at the end of the tunnel. You have made sacrifices along the way—missed weddings, funerals, family events, and more. But now is the time for the big payoff: You are going to be an independent cardiothoracic surgeon.

Like with everything we do, this is going to require a plan. There are elements which are firmly in and completely out of your control. This description is based on my experiences as an early career graduate, a program director for more than 10 years, and a division director who is always looking for my next recruit.

I will confess: everything written here is not what I have always done, and some of it I wish someone had advised me to do in years past.

Timeline and Preparation

Whether you are an integrated resident, a traditional resident, or an advanced fellow, you can never be too early in preparing for this. The process begins with you. 

What do you want?  Where do you (or your family) want to live? What type of environment (urban, rural) or setting (academic or non-academic) do you seek? Do you (or your family) have any special requirements (e.g., child is a competitive gymnast, spouse works on Wall Street)? 

Spend the time it takes to figure these things out. Talk to friends and family. Remember, you can’t apply everywhere in the country, and your mentors will not have connections everywhere either.

If you have any papers or projects in progress, get them done and submitted. The turnaround time for journals can be lengthy, and you want to present your best foot forward, so get these submitted.

Now is the time to update your CV. Make sure you have listed on it everything that you have done: Every lecture you gave to a medical student; Every time you served on a quality committee as a resident member; Everything.  

But don’t add fluff such as “work in progress” or “to be submitted.” Some also will discourage listing “submitted” works that have not been accepted. 

I encourage you to develop your own “Portfolio of Value,” which speaks to your areas of strengths in four disciplines: Clinical, Scholarly, Educational, and Administrative. You will need these disciplines to be successful in any setting.  

Proofread your CV thoroughly. Have others do the same. Get examples of CV formatting from your mentors to see which are appealing, and make sure your formatting is consistent throughout.

Pro Tip

Keep your CV and Portfolio of Value continuously updated. This means keeping them open on your desktop. Save versions by month so you can always go back and check. You will thank me when it comes time for promotion.

Write a generic cover letter which highlights your career aspirations, your accomplishments to date (Portfolio of Value comes in handy for this), and other items that set you apart. While this is a bit of a personal statement, it is not what you wrote last time. This is a professional letter of interest rather than an inspiration story. Write it, edit it, show it to your family or friends for review. Revise it again. This is the first thing a potential employer will see, and first impressions make a big difference. When you have identified a position, modify this generic letter to include specifics—show them you’ve done your homework.  

Make an appointment with your program director, division director, and any mentors no later than July of your last year of training.  Be prepared for this meeting with your goals outlined.  These individuals want to help you, so help them help you. Send materials to them ahead of the meeting (CV, Portfolio of Value, letter of interest, career goals, etc.). Ask for 30 minutes to an hour of their time. They should give it to you.

Remember, many jobs are not advertised, but rather filled by word of mouth. Program directors and division directors talk to one another. They call their friends and colleagues around the country looking for top talent such as yourself.

For example, if I know you want to live in the Northeast, I may pick up the phone and call a friend to see what’s coming down the pike. You also should have a CTSNet account and follow the jobs section. You may see advertisements in journals such as The Annals of Thoracic Surgery and JTCVS. Apply to jobs if you are qualified, but don’t waste your time with positions that specifically ask for seniority.

Read Part II: Interviews