10 Reasons to Plan a Doctor Career Path

Kristen Campbell
November 3, 2020

Once you’ve finished medical school, professional development might be the furthest thing from your mind. Since many medical students see getting their credentials, helping patients, and finding a job as their main goal, medical school might seem like the end of the road. 

However, new physicians might be surprised to find out a career in medicine can come with plenty of opportunities for goal setting, continuing your education, developing your medical skillset, finding leadership opportunities, and giving and receiving mentorship and advice

All of these areas will take some forethought in order to put your best foot forward, and physicians of all ages should think about finding satisfying avenues for career growth. Here are 10 reasons why your professional development should be something to think about:

1. It Improves Satisfaction with Your Work

Working is easier when you have a goal. While the first thing on most physician’s minds might be patient care, if you see the same kinds of patients or medical issues every day, it could start to feel a bit routine. While it might be tempting to show up to your job, attend to your patients, and go home, setting broader career goals can not only expand your medical knowledge but also your ambition. Setting goals helps physicians seek out avenues for growth, and consistently achieving these goals enhances engagement with the work – making sure your experience as a doctor is fulfilling for both you and your patients. 

2. It Delivers New Challenges

Many new physicians are used to the challenges and rigors of medical school – there is always a new deadline to meet, patient care to deliver, and new opportunities to take advantage of, which keeps medical students busy! Once you’re finished with school, one of the challenges of working as a physician can actually be the comparatively smaller workload – while you initially might be happy for the break, after a few years in your first job you might start searching for a new challenge. Opportunities for professional development, whether it’s leadership positions, additional credentials, teaching roles, networking, or mentoring other physicians can give you an outlet for your career that will satisfy your ambitious drive and intellectual curiosity, as well as an overarching idea of where you are headed.

3. It Helps you Maintain Your Skills

The journey to becoming a physician is not an easy one, and you have invested plenty of time and money into your credentials. Keeping these professional skills sharp through additional education or through mentoring or teaching other physicians is a way to continue learning even as you practice. Many professional development programs offered by provincial medical bodies allow you to either expand your medical skillset or sharpen your existing skillset. This can be beneficial for all specializations. For example, a rural family physician who might not see a wide variety of patient illnesses on a regular basis could benefit from refreshing his knowledge base on the other potential illnesses periodically. Similarly, a surgeon in a highly technical field could attend conferences on their area of expertise, either sharing their knowledge or keeping abreast of the field.

4. It Helps You Grow as a Leader

One area of professional development beneficial for doctors is courses, positions, or career goals based around leadership. Leadership in medicine is more important than you think – almost all doctors will be in a leadership position at some point in their career. Unlike other professions, such as business or administration, where leadership roles are gained through a targeted career process or additional training, physicians aren’t taught how to lead – but are expected to do so. Focusing on your professional development gives you a leg up on this process and teaches you the skills to succeed in your doctor career path.

5. It Expands your Options in the Job Market

Professional development can encompass many aspects of career training – from goal setting to continuing education and leadership training, your career plan should provide you with a roadmap for how to get from where you are now to your next level of achievement. Part of this process might include taking on different or more challenging medical roles with increased responsibilities or specialized knowledge. Focusing on your professional development will help you to plan for these roles ahead of time – while also making you increasingly attractive to potential employers. 

6. It Offers Opportunities to Mentor Others

If you’re in the beginning of your medical career, the first step to achieving your professional goals might be to work with an older physician or mentor who can point you in the right direction. Like many aspects of medicine, planning your doctor career path isn’t something that can be taught in a textbook or even experienced on the job. Whether you have ambitious goals for reaching the top of your field or would simply like a role with more flexibility as you age, getting advice from someone who has experience can help you climb the professional ladder.

This also goes for established physicians – mentoring younger doctors is one way to not only give back, but help make an impact that goes beyond your patients. Mentorship can be a rewarding experience for both mentor and mentee, and the exchange of information can be invaluable for you along the course of your doctor career path. 

7. It Can Help Your Understand Your Strengths

Medical careers aren’t one size fits all, and focusing on your career goals can also help you to focus on your strengths as a doctor. Not everyone is a born leader, but if leadership skills are something you’d like to develop, there are training programs available. However, if you come to realize a leadership role is something you simply do not enjoy, there is no harm in setting your sights on other directions – your doctor career path could involve opening your own practice, upgrading your knowledge base, teaching, or taking on a research role instead. By looking at your career trajectory ahead of time, you can be prepared to hone in on your strengths and develop the areas where you are weaker.

8. It Can Help You Align Your Priorities

Is work/life balance one of your goals? What about your passions or hobbies outside of medicine? While it might seem counterintuitive to focus on things you enjoy doing outside of medical practice, professional development can actually help you to incorporate your ideals into your career. For example, if you want a large family and plan to make it a priority, you might want to avoid heading in a career direction where additional responsibilities will keep you at the office working late. 

A highly passionate specialist who wants to make as big of an impact as possible may have the opposite goal. Both of these are excellent and viable career trajectories, but if you don’t take into account your priorities and what is necessary to do to get what you’re hoping to achieve, you’ll end up either burned out or unsatisfied – and this is bad news for you and for your patients!

9. It Can Make Your Goals Tangible

A big part of career planning and professional development is the setting and achievement of your goals. The best goals are realistic, achievable, and have some kind of a timeframe attached to them, so that you will know when you’ve achieved them. Goal setting could be on a long term basis – like opening your own practice, becoming a specialist in your field, or taking on an administrative role – or be shorter term – like taking on more patients, attending professional development courses, or completing an additional certification. Good career goals are a mix of long term goals and the short term steps you can take today to get there.

10. It can Build Great Habits

When you’re working towards goals instead of just showing up to the office, seeing patients, and heading home, it’s easy to find yourself more motivated to achieve what you’ve set out to do. If one of your goals is to see more patients or take on additional responsibilities in your practice, you might focus on finding ways to streamline your time, simplify your administrative duties (like billing), or minimize distractions. All of these little changes add up – small changes in your routine add up to big results, and sticking to these small changes is easier when you have something to look forward to and a sense of purpose. 

Conclusion 

While professional development is an often overlooked part of medicine, there are plenty of reasons to bring it to the fore. Doctors who are setting goals, learning new skills, tackling additional training, and mentoring others are not only likely to be happier and more satisfied in their jobs, but are making a positive impact on the field of medicine as a whole – and this is great news for their patients!

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