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Top tips for transitioning from trainee to specialist

Dr Victoria Phan BMed MD MClinUS DCH FPAA Cert, Risk Adviser, Avant Risk Advisory Services

Wednesday, 21 February 2024

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Congratulations on reaching another milestone in your medical career and completing your specialist training.

As a recent fellow, the transition from a trainee doctor to a GP was an exciting period but also daunting. I found myself in unfamiliar territory, with so much additional information to wrap my head around and life-changing decisions to make on my career direction.

Depending on your chosen speciality, you may decide to work in private practice, the public system or combine both. Whichever path you take, I hope these tips will help make the transition a little less overwhelming. 

Shift in your mindset 

During the training years, working alongside more senior doctors (registrars) or consultants provides us with a safety net and support to make decisions regarding patients’ care and treatment.

Once you’ve completed your training and decide to work in public or private practice, you may be solely responsible for your patient's care – you will need to shift your mindset. Be confident with being the ultimate decision-maker.

Be prepared to compete fiercely

You fought hard to get a spot on a specialist training program. Be prepared because you still may need to compete fiercely for your desired job. There are few specialist trainee positions and even fewer consultant positions to compete for. 

If you decide to only work in private practice, how will you build a referral base to generate continual patient referrals? Will you work in a group practice or go it alone? Will it be a new or an already established practice? 

If you plan to work in the public system, junior consultant positions are limited, and you’re at the bottom of the consultant ladder. You may feel pressure to take on extra duties or roles and responsibilities. It’s also a big adjustment now you are a consultant because the buck stops with you. You need to effectively delegate work and supervise junior staff without micromanaging. You’re now their boss so you need to communicate differently.

Seek advice from peers, mentors and professionals

Just like patients come to us for medical advice, you need expert advice.

If you decide to join an established practice or set up your own, the biggest cost is not doing your research, so speak with:

  • colleagues and mentors who have set up a practice
  • expert practice management consultants who do this daily
  • an experienced practice manager to discuss your ideas
  • other experts to get advice - lawyers, accountants, financial advisers.

If you are setting up a new practice, staff are your greatest asset and your largest expense, so invest in hiring a good team that aligns with your values and vision to help you realise your business goals. 

Poor processes can increase your risk. Open communication and detailed, written policies and procedures help manage high-risk areas like follow-up, recall and results. 

Continuing to work in the public system comes with its own nuances. You may be employed by more than one hospital at a time and need to sign multiple contracts. If so, it's important you understand the terms and conditions of your contract(s).

Work out what you’re worth

Back yourself and your training when working out the dollar value of your private practice services. Can you highlight your points of difference that make your services worth what you charge?

Refer to the AMA schedule fees or ask colleagues a few years ahead of you how they decided on the fees in their practice, or what fees they negotiated when joining a group practice.

Before you do anything, don’t forget to complete the following:

  1. Apply to Ahpra for specialist registration.
  2. Notify Medicare so they can update your provider number.
  3. Update your medical indemnity category of practice.
  4. Pay your college fees.

Look after your physical and mental health 

In the training years, many of us put our personal lives on hold, but now training is completed, you may experience ‘adulting’. To have a long and successful career in and outside of medicine, you may make life changing choices such as getting married, buying a house or car, or having children.

There’s no getting away from the fact medicine is a stressful profession and burnout is widespread and can creep up on us. Pay close attention to your physical and mental health – keep an eye out for your peers too! Here are some key insights on the burnout phenomenon:

  • It can manifest through various symptoms including emotional exhaustion, compassion fatigue, empathy loss, cognitive decline, blinkeredness and physical issues.
  • Doctors often grapple with mindset challenges like perfectionism, superhero syndrome, overworking, and isolation, predisposing them to burnout.
  • It’s important to recognise the cardinal signs: exhaustion, depersonalisation, and loss of purpose, as they are linked to the depletion of your physical, emotional, and spiritual energy accounts.
  • Like a stretched elastic band, burnout is hard to bounce back from. Identifying triggers and stressors early on and applying destressing strategies can help prevent progression.

Support from Avant

A career in medicine can be wide and varied, but whatever avenue you decide to take, Avant has a wealth of products, services and resources to support you.

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*Professional indemnity insurance products are issued by Avant Insurance Limited, ABN 82 003 707 471, AFSL 238 765. The information provided here is general advice only. You should consider the appropriateness of the advice having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs before deciding to purchase or continuing to hold a policy with us. For full details including the terms, conditions, and exclusions that apply, please read and consider the policy wording and PDS, which is available at avant.org.au or by contacting us on 1800 128 268.

*IMPORTANT: This publication is not comprehensive and does not constitute legal or medical advice. You should seek legal or other professional advice before relying on any content, and practise proper clinical decision making with regard to the individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgement or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Avant is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. Information is only current at the date initially published.

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