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Landing Your First Ophthalmology Job: Interview Insights

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12 min read

This guide covers how to prepare for job interviews with example questions and tips for landing your first ophthalmology job out of residency.

Landing Your First Ophthalmology Job: Interview Insights
Finding your first job out of residency can be daunting. This guide can help you prepare for the questions you may be asked, prepare you to ask the appropriate questions to determine if the practice is right for you, and provide general information on interview preparation and protocol.

Optimize your cover letter and CV

The first impression—and arguably the most critical—you imprint on an employer is through your cover letter and curriculum vitae (CV); therefore, it is imperative that they be clear, correct, concise, and represent you to the fullest.
Many people find this the most intimidating portion of the process, but by following a straightforward formula, you can eliminate much of the stress and confusion.
Cover letters are generally broken into three sectionsstatement of interest, qualifications, and closing sentimentsas outlined below:
  • Statement of interest: In general, start with a general statement about how excited you are to apply for the position, when you are going to graduate from residency, and why you are interested in the position.
  • Qualifications: In this paragraph, mention procedures/lasers and surgeries you are able to do, and skills that you have (empathetic, passionate, detail-oriented, good communicator, etc.). If you are applying for an academic institution, include a blurb about research that you’ve published or your research interests.
  • Closing sentiments: Finally, end with a general statement about how you are looking forward to hearing more about the position and thanking them for their time. You could also ask one or a couple of your recent graduates who applied for jobs for their cover letter and CV and use them as a guide.
Regarding your CV, it is important to read over and update this prior to the job application cycle. It is different than a resume (which is normally tailored to the job you’re applying for), whereas a CV is generally longer (okay to be over one page) and includes more historical information regarding your career.
It can include prior schools attended, degrees obtained, teaching experience, presentations, fellowships, scholarships, and awards. You can also have one of your attendings look over your CV and see if they would adjust or amend anything.

Find the perfect position

Once your cover letter and CV are updated and optimized, it is time to get it in the hands of the proper person.
There is an array of approaches to finding the best-fitting position:
  • Upload to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) job center along with your updated CV.
  • Search Google by adding “Ophthalmology jobs in (insert location)” to the search engine. A list of jobs with website links will appear where you can simply click, fill in your information, and upload your cover letter and CV.
  • Peruse industry job boards, such as the one available through Eyes On Eyecare.
  • Connect with ophthalmology job recruiters, and they will, in turn, send you positions/jobs in the area in which you’re looking that match your interests/qualifications.
  • Connect or reach out to prior residents or alumni if they are at a practice you wish to join or are in a general region that you wish to live in. Alternatively, you could first have one of your attendings reach out to one of their colleagues, and ask if they would be willing to speak with you regarding finding a job in the area. Connections are very helpful!
Regarding more competitive locations, often a fellowship is helpful for landing a more desirable job. This is not to say you cannot find a job in that location without a fellowship, but it does improve your competitive advantage.

The ins and outs of the interview process

Once you have applied for a given position, generally someone will get back to you. The time frame for a response is variable. Once the hiring entity has shown interest, there are still several different stages to finally landing an in-person interview.
For example, with a private equity group, oftentimes, the initial conversation is with a general recruiter. If this communication goes well, the private equity’s physician recruiter will likely follow up. At this point, they are gauging your knowledge of the practice and fielding as well as asking questions, so make certain to have done your research and have a list of relevant inquiries on hand.
Next will likely be a virtual interview, often in a panel format; it is not uncommon to speak to different physicians in the practice during this stage. If all goes well, this will result in an invitation to an in-person interview. Do not be surprised at the many stages and multiple discussions or be discouraged by the length of time the interview process can take.

Prepare to answer and ask interview questions

Below are typical interview questions that may crop up at any stage of the interview process:
  • What are your surgical numbers?
  • What has been your residency experience?
  • How many patients do you see in a day?
  • How many premium intraocular lenses (IOLs) have you implanted (if applicable), i.e., multifocal, extended depth of focus, toric lenses, etc.?
  • What microinvasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS) exposure have you had?
  • Do you have any experience with femtosecond-laser cataract surgery?
  • What are your interests, and what surgeries would you like to perform?
  • What appeals to you about this practice/location/area?
  • What is your expected—or desired—salary? (To prepare, research ballpark salaries for each region/city in which you are interviewing.)
As mentioned earlier, in nearly all instances, you will be prompted to ask questions about the practice.
Consider the following questions to ask interviewers:
  • How many practice locations are there?
  • What would my typical schedule look like?
  • In general, do physicians practice at all the locations? If not, how many locations is it typical to visit in a week/month?
  • What is the expected clinical volume (i.e. patients per day)?
  • Will I have a scribe? Are they different each day or the same scribe?
  • Does the practice have certain equipment (e.g., optical coherence tomography [OCT], visual field testing, fluorescein angiography capabilities, and lasers [e.g., YAG, selective laser trabeculoplasty (SLT), argon, panretinal photocoagulation (PRP)]?
  • What biometry and corneal topography equipment does this clinic utilize?
  • What is the call schedule, and how is it distributed among physicians?
  • Is there a hospital call involved with this position?
  • If not an academic practice, is the practice affiliated with a hospital?
  • Are surgeries performed in an outpatient surgery center?
  • How many patients do physicians typically see in a day?
  • Regarding cataract surgeries, what is the referral base (e.g., optometrists, primary care physicians, ophthalmologists, etc.)?
  • How many cataracts are new physicians performing?
  • Do you have a procedure room? How is it equipped?
  • Are there partnership opportunities within the organization?
  • Are there 401k match options?
  • What insurance is provided (e.g., health, dental, vision, life, etc.)?
  • What is the yearly vacation and time-off policy for physicians starting out?
  • What are some of the most appealing aspects of this area?
  • How would you measure physician success within the first 6 months?
  • How long does it take for insurance approvals to come through in general (so you can start seeing patients)?
  • Have any doctors left the practice recently? If so, why?
  • If the practice is not owned by private equity, is the possibility of selling to a private equity firm in the future?

Tip: Treat each communication with every individual with equal importance. If it is a discussion through a virtual interview, still dress professionally and make certain your background is appropriate.

Up-close and in-person

If a practice chooses to interview you in person, typically they will pay for your airplane ticket out and transportation, including a rental car. They will often send an interview itinerary beforehand detailing what the schedule of the interview will include.
On the day of the interview, dress professionally (you can either wear business casual or a suit). Expect to meet the various physicians at the practice as well as be introduced to the staff. In addition, part of the process will be to shadow a doctor as they see patients and interact with staff. Pay close attention; the information you glean can be invaluable.
Details to pay attention to during the in-person visit include:
  • Does the vibe of the office seem generally positive? Does the staff appear frustrated? Are the patients upset or angry in the waiting area?
  • How many support staff are employed? Does the practice appear appropriately staffed to carry out the clinical work?
  • Is the office clean and organized?
  • What type of slit lamps do they have?
  • What do the lasers look like?
  • Are the rooms stocked with appropriate equipment?
  • What electronic medical record (EMR) are they using? Does it appear to be efficient, or is charting taking a large part of the appointment?

Tip: Remember an interview is mutual; you are also determining whether the practice is a good fit for you.

Keep in mind any potential red flags

Remember, oftentimes, people will upsell the practice and downplay its weaknesses. It is up to you to gather the information that will allow you to decide whether you feel you could be successful and content at a particular practice.
This is hard to distinguish in the beginning, but with more interviews, it becomes more apparent as you reflect on the different experiences you had. Regarding salary, avoid discussing contract terms, including salary, benefits, etc., until an offer has been made. The salary and benefits will be negotiated later.

Tip: Conversations with similarly-aged physicians are often more helpful and give greater insight into the practice and area. Seek them out in the process.

Follow-up protocol after the interview

In all cases, after the interview, send a thank you email. If you are interested in moving forward, end the email with a statement such as, “I very much enjoyed meeting you all and learning about the practice and am looking forward to discussing the next steps.”  You can also add, “If you have any further questions or need additional information, I am eager to provide answers.”
If the sentiment is mutual, they will send an offer letter. If you do not intend to accept the position, it is important to relay this. It is never appropriate to simply stop responding to the practice’s emails. Regardless, always be respectful in your interactions with every person you meet throughout the process. Ophthalmology is a small community; you will likely interact with the physicians and individuals you meet even if you do not ultimately take their practice’s position.
As a final note, even if you visit a practice that seems like the perfect fit, it is smart to go on multiple job interviews. Multiple job offers provide better negotiating power. I will be covering the contract negotiation process in a future article from this series.

In closing

In summary, finding your first job out of residency can be daunting. By following the simple advice in this article, you will be better prepared to find—and land—that ideal first ophthalmology position.
Parisah Moghaddampour, MD
About Parisah Moghaddampour, MD

Parisah Moghaddampour, MD is a PGY-4 resident at Loma Linda Eye Institute. She has a Bachelor's of Science in Biology from Oregon State University. She attended medical school at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in Southern California. She is interested in comprehensive ophthalmology and outside of the clinic she enjoys educating others about personal finance.

Parisah Moghaddampour, MD
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