Stampede! The Herd Mentality of Recruiting Season

When is peak recruiting season for emergency medicine residents? It depends. Everyone knows about when it starts and roughly when it ends. The first residents to sign usually do so in the summer, and the last are usually picking up the rear sometime in January (on the East Coast, that is).
But it’s that start of the season that changes from year to year. Sometimes it starts early, with a rush of residents signing in June and July. Sometimes, though, it all seems to start a little later, with the rush coming in September.
Of course, by the time ACEP rolls around in October, everything is always in full swing, and you’re actively looking if you haven’t signed already. But what is it about the recruiting season that causes these annual swings earlier or later?

The Herd Mentality

News spreads like wildfire when one of your classmates has a job, and it makes everyone else feel that finding a job is something they must do imminently. That news then spreads in your program, trickles back to your classmates from your alma mater, and from there to other residency programs. What started in just a few residency programs suddenly becomes an annual trend.

The herd starts running, and it begins to feel like something you are supposed to do right away. Everyone knows emergency medicine attracts a certain type of physician — assertive and quick, among other wonderful qualities. It’s that natural-born speed that translates into a rush to sign once you start seeing your classmates do it.
Once a few classmates get their first jobs, you will feel you suddenly lurched from right on track to way behind. Pause, take a breath, and make sure you know what you want, rather than just leaping for the first offer to come your way. (It will inevitably come your way.)
But don’t wait too long. By all means, jump on an offer if you have a specific hospital or geographic area in mind. Positions do get filled, and you’re going to be looking at the leftovers rather than taking first pick if you wait until the snow melts in January. The hospital you want may be staffed by a small group that only works at one or two hospitals in some cases. Those jobs will fill up, and you should get on it.
A word of caution: It’s better to put forward your best foot rather than a rushed foot.

Know It When You See It

The herd mentality will become palpable once it starts happening. Your classmates will have to switch shifts to go for interviews. Everyone will soon know where and when everyone else is interviewing.
Strangely, this phenomenon also has a regional divide, roughly split between the East Coast go-getters who stereotypically try to rush everything and their more laid-back West Coast counterparts who are more likely to take their time.
I recall a classmate who wanted a job in Seattle. She didn’t even schedule an interview until most of us had already signed. It wasn’t because she was unqualified; it was because recruiting season in Washington didn’t start until it was already over in Maryland. (She landed a great job in Seattle.)
I knew exactly where I wanted to go: Washington D.C., specifically, Capitol Hill, where I have always felt at home. Yes, I was that obnoxious person who screwed up everyone else’s timeline by being the first to sign. (To all my colleagues that year, I apologize.) I used Google maps to find all the hospitals within a certain radius around my desired ZIP code, and signed with the best one. I caused the stampede, and it did not surprise anyone who knows me.
But knowing about the stampede is the first step in avoiding it. Stay focused on what’s important to you and plan ahead as recruiting season gets underway, but don’t rush into anything until you’re ready.