Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Finding a Niche

What is a niche and how do you find it?

In academic emergency medicine, faculty often have areas of "interest." The topics covered are as broad as the practice of emergency medicine. I have to admit that nailing my interest down to one of two topics has been near impossible until recently. I've always been a jack of all trades, master of none.

If you've ever attended the CORD or SAEM scientific assembly then you would have had the opportunity to sit down and listen to one of the Jedi Masters of emergency medicine education, Amal Mattu, and hear him speak on the topic of "Finding Your Niche." His advice has proven to be helpful and I would like to share some of it with you now.

Why should you develop a niche? This is all about adding value: to yourself, your department, and your program. Having an area of expertise will often lead to opportunities for research, teaching, or speaking. Down the road, this will help with promotion, but for the present, you have the opportunity help your department grow.

How do you choose a niche? Sometimes, it chooses you. Start by talking to your chair or program director. This is how I fell into my growing niche: patient safety. They often have an idea of what the department or program needs and can make suggestions. They also know your strengths and may suggest a niche that you didn't even think about. Initially, this should be a broad area that will likely become narrow once your expertise in the area increases. A word of caution though, be careful when picking a niche that is saturated with experts. While you can still develop a niche in these areas, gaining renown and standing out from the crowd will take longer.

How to you develop your niche? This is where the rubber meets the road. First, maintain your expertise in general emergency medicine. After this, its time to create a plan for gaining expertise. Find a mentor to help guide you through the process. Look up and read everything you can in the EM literature and beyond related to your niche. Attend national meetings and make sure to review the abstracts and presentations from others within you chosen topic of expertise. Consider a fellowship or, create you own! Work on learning to write, research, and present so that you can gain recognition for your expertise. Finally, seek out opportunities to teach your niche at the local, regional, and national level.

Finding and building a niche is not easy. It has taken me 3 years to narrow my broad interests sufficiently enough to begin moving forward. At first, my interests included cardiac emergencies, ultrasound, teaching, wilderness medicine, and a few others. Time and study has narrowed it to teaching and patient safety, two topics that actually groove together nicely.

To my readers: What is your niche and what advice can you give to others to help them find their niche?

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