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Networking 101

Recently, I was having dinner with one of my mentees. She’s a college senior starting grad school in the fall, and I was telling her that one thing she should do sooner rather than later is go to regional conferences to meet people and build her network. She paused, and then asked me, clearly a little unsure, how do you network?

I completely understood. It seems like they teach law school and business school students how to network, but med students, not so much, and frankly many of us are not innately good at it. I am far from an expert, but I can share this article, and this one, too, and a little more about what works for me – because I know that networking matters. When I was searching for my first job out of training, my response rate on emails that opened with “Dr. G gave me your email address and said I should reach out” had three times the response rate that my cold-call emails did. A personal connection extends an air of legitimacy that doesn’t exist otherwise. Making those personal connections can be the tricky part.

Someone told me a long time ago that people love to talk about themselves, and that the secret to a great conversation is to ask a lot of questions. The older I get, the more truth I find in this statement. Networking is really just a fancy way of saying connecting, in my opinion, and everyone can bond over something. For me, it’s restaurants, books, and travel. I don’t find common ground with everyone I meet, but for the most part, if I ask questions I’m genuinely interested in, I can make a real connection.

That initial link opens the door to further conversation about anything from clinical dilemmas to research interests. When I cannot follow up in real time, I remind myself to send an email by the next week – which brings to mind a lesson I learned last year at ACC, and that is, be visible. I was introduced to another cardiologist and we were chatting, and then she asked me how to find me. Business card? LinkedIn? Twitter? A year ago, I had none of these things, and she seemed dumbfounded. Not being facile with social media isn’t a valid excuse anymore, and being easy to find makes potential collaborations likelier for both parties.

And for the record, my network isn’t just peers from medical school and post-graduate training. I have a childhood friend who is now a pulmonologist in Chicago, and when our paths cross for conferences, we talk women in medicine and career development – I’ve learned a lot from her, and I believe she’d say the same about me. As another example, an ophthalmologist I met socially in DC connected me to her friend who ultimately got me into a women in medicine room at a national conference – and as we all know, it’s great to be “in the room where it happens.” Making and maintaining a strong network of women seems to be particularly helpful in regards to leadership and professional advancement.

Networking is really just a conversation, and in my experience, it leads to all sorts of opportunities and alliances – so why not be the first to say hello?