As physicians we often find ourselves just moving through life, one step after the other, following what others have told us to do. It is easy to forget to stop and think about how we should be building a career path specific to ourselves. Career intentionality is a difficult topic to cover as we all have different goals and aspirations. However, as we build our future goals; we should keep in mind that goals need to be specific, measurable, and well thought out.
Career advancement is one of the “low hanging fruits” to consider when being intentional about future goals. Before stepping out into the world as a licensed physician, we move as cohorts through medical school, residency, and fellowship. Suddenly, we find ourselves as individuals within a practice or a hospital. We now move independent of others. It’s definitely a change from the last almost decade of our lives. Whether we choose to stay within a certain practice setting or explore alternatives, it’s important to consider the aspects of personal growth and our goals. So, what are your goals for advancement? Is one of your goals to be a department chair? A subspecialist with a published book? Do you aspire for something different? Where do you currently stand in relation to these goals? For instance, do you do research because it is an expectation but not something you have a passion for? The more clearly you define what you want from your career, the easier it will be to create or find the career that best fits you.
Location, location, location. Time after time this phrase guides important aspects of our lives’ and should definitely include our careers. Once again, our training often dictates and directs where we have lived and moved up to this point. But now, we finally get to make moving choices to wherever and whenever we want. This freedom can be a little troubling and make for quite a difficult decision. There are so many considerations: climate, population, family, number of colleagues, practice volume, and more. Another barrier to cross in selecting a general geographical area is the job availability of that region. While some regions may be more difficult to enter because of a lack of job availability, some areas are in constant demand for more work with groups looking to fill spots. Perhaps your dream location does not have any current positions. It’s worth asking hard questions including: Is it worth finding a temporary job while you wait for a position in your dream location? Are there nearby regions that are also attractive to you? It may be helpful to define what it is about a specific location that draws you in and if you can find similar features elsewhere. Outside of being close to family and friends, there might be many parts of the country that you could make work for your situation.
We all know the big three options for practice type: academic, private, and industry; but this is just the tip of the iceberg. While academic settings often have similar overall structure, career progression may be widely variable based on the institution. Advancement at one academic center may be bleak, while a different academic center fosters quicker growth. Within private practice there are various group settings, employee, contractor, and partnership-track. Each of these private group settings have a wide variety in career progression. Do you find yourself not progressing toward your overall goals? After constructing a concrete plan on what you want to achieve, talk to your group to see if there is alignment between your goals and your groups goals. If you are unable to find a compromise, it may be time to find a different practice setting.
Work Hours and Call
I am a father to two wonderful children that guide my very specific personal intentionality when it comes to work hours and call coverage. I’ve witnessed coworkers who have taken a job just to leave within a few months because they learn that the workload is far beyond what they expected. The amount of time dedicated to your work is especially important as we proceed through our careers. It is important to remember that our life exists beyond just the hours of work spent each day. Whether you have a family or are single, intentionality about work-life balance is crucial. Your schedule and call shifts all depend upon practice operations and some aspects will be out of your control; however, advocate for yourself to create a schedule that works best for you and your goals. For example, some choose to work longer hours and with a greater case volume to make higher revenue, whereas other groups might elect to only work four days a week and have less volume on those days. Think about what you want and pursue a career to match.
Once we have given thought into creating our goals and finding the career that best fits us, it’s important to seek contentment. Through our educational training, we have inadvertently learned to expect large life changes every four years or so, through undergraduate, medical school, residency, and fellowship. After we find a job that fits our needs, we must adapt our mindset to accept a more permanent work environment. Even the most perfect job on paper will have days, weeks, or months that are challenging. Being content in your career will help you love your job and will help you come into work every day with a smile on your face. Research has shown that happiness is contagious, therefore the happier and more content you are in your job, the more likely you will promote a better workplace for everyone.
Hopefully this article has provided you with areas to consider regarding your career. Continue your research and view the CAP’s Practice Characteristics Survey Report for basic data on board-certified pathologists, how they practice, and how they are being compensated to help make a guided decision on where you would like to practice. Whether you are freshly out of fellowship or considering a job change, the more concrete your vision is of your ideal career, the easier it will be to obtain.
Dr. Broadwater is an AP/CP pathologist and is currently the Chief of Anatomical Pathology at Keesler Medical Center on Keesler Air Force Base. Additionally, he holds a part time staff pathologist position at Merit Health Biloxi. Dr. Broadwater graduated residency at Brooke Army Medical Center in 2021.