When I tell you about this secret weapon that I’ve been using in my career, that has landed me jobs, founded friendships and created connections, I mean it! I can’t keep something this good a secret, so I’m sharing all about networking on today’s episode of The PA Is In.
I’ve leveraged networking, but not in the way you think, at each and every turn of the winding road that has been my career as a PA.
Okay, okay, before you roll your eyes and say YES, I *know* all about “networking” at open houses with Hors D’oeuvres and socializing, you have to hear my hot take on networking. It’s more than formal events. There are opportunities to network throughout your day.
Networking is an essential ingredient in making strategic career moves. Want to learn more and see how networking can catapult your job, profession and yourself forward? This is the post for you!
- What networking is (and isn’t)
- How networking has helped me – I’ll walk you through my career, job-by-job, strategic-move by strategic-move and share how networking played a part along the way
- Why networking is a necessity (and not selfish, manipulative or self-serving)
What Networking Is
Networking is defined as the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.
A network is a group of things that is connected. Whether it’s computers or people – the connection and exchange of information is what makes it a network.
If networking sounds – well, like something you’d learn in career 101 – and like something that people who might not look like or act like you do in their career – then think about it as growing connections.
Instead of the formality of the word networking, aim to connect, deeply and sincerely, with those around you.
What Networking Isn’t
Networking isn’t selfish, self-serving.
Networking isn’t drug rep dinners, a hospital hosted mixer with everyone dressed up, it’s not cocktail hour or formal events. Certainly networking can occur AT those events.
In my experience, a lot of networking happens in hospital cafeterias, on Teams calls, at soccer practice – networking and connecting.
It doesn’t have to be corporate, forced and organized.
Let me put it this way – networking can occur any time two people exist in a room.
Truly, you are working to network, connect with and build a rapport with your patients. Regardless of your practice setting, from the highest acuity and fast paced inpatient teams running the ICU and the adrenaline junkies staffing the ER to the providers in specialties with more time and obvious opportunity for connection like palliative care, any time you walk into a room with a patient or family member – it’s an opportunity to connect.
Certainly that’s a different type of connection than with the chief of your division, the lead PA in your department.
Professionally, networking usually involves meeting new people, who share a profession, industry, or interests. Networking involves exchanging ideas and information between these individuals.
For me, networking really means people helping other people that they know, value and respect.
Networking in my Career
In 2012, a few months before graduating PA School, I was on the hunt for jobs. I had a close relationship with our programs’ Program Director. She had left the program in 2011, 1 year before we graduated. I had kept in touch with her and, at the time I was considering applying for a postgraduate General Surgery Fellowship at Johns Hopkins.
I sent her an email asking if she thought I would be a good candidate for a fellowship and seeking her advice and opinion about that choice for me in my career. Certainly I was asking her for something – advice and an opinion.
She replied, encouraging me to head straight for work as a General Surgery PA and noted that someone who lived in her neighborhood and had kids her kids’ age was an Anesthesiologist at a small community hospital just north of where I was living. This ologist knew of a General Surgery who was looking to employ a PA.
Turns out that was my first attending physician. My program director connected us. My first surgeon had a daughter in law who was a PA. That connection launched my career as a surgery PA.
Moved from a small community hospital to a large network doing General Surgery for a one surgeon practice. I got that job just by applying on the internet. I saw a posting after I had decided it was time for a change, a shorter commute, and to get plugged into a network with other PAs doing surgery, subspecialties, and more advanced technology and care.
After working at that Gen Surg position for several years – that’s where I was working when boys number 3 and 4 of ours were born – it was time to move on. I had outgrown that position and was ready to spread my wings and try my hand at a surgical subspecialty.
When I started looking around the network I worked at I made a list of all the surgical subspecialties and acute care services that had a strong inpatient presence and I wrote down who I knew that worked as PAs or Surgeons, office managers or nurses in the office. I was looking for an in, a connection, someone who I knew who knew me and could speak to my skills and that I would be a valuable addition to the team.
We had a human resources system where you could search any persons name and see who their manager was, who was above them and who was on their team. I leveraged that heavily when scouting possible teams. Within your organization, what teams already had PAs and NPs on their team? Who teams had positions listed? What teams are growing? I looked back through my network email to look for departments that were surgical who were announcing new surgeons joining their teams and moving to the area – because these were growing service lines that would likely need help – specifically help in the operating room, which is where I wanted to be at the time.
I wrote down my top three specialties and I started showing up where those people were. Sounds a little bit like stalking but I would call it aggressive, ney, strategic socializing.
I started religiously attending our surgical M&M groups to observe these surgeons in their natural habitat. Even-though I was intimidated because… surgeons… I started raising my hand when I had something to say and I wanted those surgeons to know who I was and the knowledge and experience I had.
One Saturday I signed up to attend a 6-hour Oncology Symposium that the three chiefs of the top surgical specialities on my list were presenting. When the symposium wrapped up I saw the three of them standing on stage with some of their colleagues, chit chatting and generally shooting the shit.
Now picture this – they are all male surgeons, standing in a relatively closed circle – a couple of them knew who I was, but most didn’t know me from Adam, as my mom would say. I walked up onto the stage, said Hi to the one that I knew and said with as much confidence as I could muster “I’m Tracy Bingaman. I’m an exceptional Surgery PA & I’m looking to move from General Surgery to a surgical subspecialty. Who needs a rockstar PA on their team?”
And then… I waited. Two of the surgeons noted that their AP complement was full, they had just hired, they’d need to hire another surgeon before growing the PAs on their team… but two of them looked at me and looked at each other, and began discussing a position on their team.
They ultimately started talking about a job-sharing position, but in the end Urology was the best place for me and my position as an Inpatient based Robotic Surgery PA on the Urology team was born.
Don’t wait for the job posting – ask for the opportunity.
Three of the four full time jobs I’ve held as a PA haven’t ever had a job listing.
They existed after a discussion from someone else on my behalf or a conversation generated by me – they were built for me.
They were designed after the hiring group, organization or physician realized they wanted me to join their team.
When it came time, in the depths of my burnout, to break away from the network and go looking for employment, again networking played a key role in that move.
18 months before leaving the network it was a snowy February day, I was in high gear rounding on my Urology patients, and my inpatient rounding day brought me to the PACU to meet with one of my surgeons and “run the list” with him.
I sat there, charting, dictating, making phone calls and waiting for him to finish his cystoscopy and one of the Plastic Surgery attendings who ran a local private practice with an exceptional reputation sat down next to me.
I knew him because our kids attended the same daycare.
And because my former Gen Surg attending operated on Wednesdays and so did he – at the same hospital – so our paths occasionally crossed in that setting.
And because I saw him in my role at the time in Urology.
So we had a LOT of exposure to each other – but nothing formal – all in passing. All HELLO or GOODBYE or holding the door at our 6:30am daycare drop off because we both were headed to the hospital for 7am.
So when he turned to me and asked me what Plastic Surgery PAs earn, it took me by surprise.
I collected his email and told him I would send along some information from the AAPA re: what plastic surgery PAs were earning nationally. Then a lightbulb went off in my mind – and I asked a question that would change my life and help me heal from burnout years later. I asked “Why?”
He shared with me that he was looking to hire a PA to cover his unreferred ER call. On the spot I told him I would do it!
I worked for 18 months as a 1099 independent contractor for that Plastic Surgeon before my burnout got so bad and I decided to leave the network I was working for.
The day I resigned my first phone call was to my husband and my second phone call was to that surgeon, asking for a full time job at his office.
We had had some preliminary conversations about me joining the office in a more permanent or full time capacity as a Plastics PA and Advanced Aesthetic Injector but he said he wasn’t ready, he didn’t have his partners on board… yet. 6 weeks later I walked in the door for my first day at work. I’ve been there ever since.
Networking is a Necessity
Here is why networking is a necessity – there is a TON of research that shows that networking leads to more job opportunities, a knowledge of your subject matter, specialty and profession that is more broad and deep, a better ability to innovate and faster advancement of technology and advances.
Networking is essential in medicine. No matter how big of a city, how small of a town, whether you work in a private practice or a massive, multi-specialty group or multi-hospital network – the family, the network in medicine is so interconnected. Your reputation will proceed you whenever you go to make a change.
When you network you take back control of that narrative. Instead of passively sitting around wondering what people are saying about you and what your reputation is.
You have to invest in these connections, maintain the relationships and be willing to help others as often as you are willing and ready to ask for help!
Networking can be one of these things that makes people feel fake, phony and even manipulative to some degree. Extroverts might like the social interaction and connection, but for many people the work networking has a negative connotation – of sucking up, being self-serving or inauthentic.
Here’s your PA Is In tip of the day
Networking is a necessity to advance your career as a PA. Consistently invest in those relationships and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Be generous with helping those around you and intentional with your strategic moves.