If you're a resident, a fellow, or even an experienced physician looking for a fresh start, you have to decide where to work. Sure, you've already given some thought to the type of setting in which you might like to practice—but there are so many options in so many places, how can you be sure which is right for you?

How to Pick Your Perfect Practice Setting

Should you go into private group practice? Specialty practice? Hospital-based practice? A large academic medical center? Small community hospital? VA hospital? Research or pharmaceutical lab? Public health or public policy? A governmental or professional association? Perhaps a practice that combines medicine with business or the law?

The choices are almost endless.

"The value of an 'MD' is that it can open a lot of doors for you—perhaps a daunting number of doors," says George Richard, PhD, Director of the Careers in Medicine program at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in Washington, DC.

Before you sign an employment contract and commit yourself to a certain practice setting, take the time to investigate a little further, do your homework, and ask some questions–of yourself. That is, look inside yourself before you look around for a place to practice, Dr. Richard says.

Ask yourself some important questions, such as:

  • Do you like chatting with patients and helping them overcome their problems, or do you prefer to work directly on curing diseases or repairing the body?
  • Do you like the idea of supervising others and making changes as a leader or administrator, or do you feel suited to hands-on care and "working in the trenches?"
  • Do you like the camaraderie and give-and-take of a team, or do you enjoy the independence and responsibility of flying solo?
  • Do you see yourself as a mentor or teacher to others, or would you find direct care more rewarding?
  • Do you want a position of prestige and power, or one committed to service and support?
  • What kind of lifestyle do you want to have? Is personal/family time more important than salary or achievement? Is city life more appealing than country life? Do you prefer a predictable, low-stress schedule, or do you enjoy a fast pace and burning the midnight oil?

Once you can answer such questions about yourself, you'll have a much easier time finding the perfect place to practice. You'll know that if you're interested in sharing your knowledge, for example, then you might consider a career in an academic teaching hospital. If you're more interested in direct patient care and working as a team, then take a closer look at private group practice or hospital–based group practice.

But again, before you can find your practice, you must find yourself, Dr. Richard advises. In other words, listen to your heart before you jump in with both feet.