How to Choose your Career Path

Kristen Campbell
November 5, 2020

Choosing a career path isn’t typically on the forefront of doctor’s minds – after all, physicians have worked long and hard in order to get to their current role, and many of them are just concerned with helping their patients. But career development doesn’t end after medical school. Whether you’re a new physician or you’ve been working in clinical practice for years, it’s important to think about how to choose your career path. By setting goals for everything from the hours you’d like to work to the lifestyle you’d like to have to the type of role you see yourself in ten years from now, you can make sure your career trajectory goes as it should.

Unlike other professions, physicians are not typically encouraged to think about their career trajectory after choosing their specialization and starting practice. However, there are plenty of benefits to doing so. Physicians who make plans and set goals for their clinical practice and their career are more engaged with their work, less likely to face burnout, and more satisfied with their careers overall. So how do you choose a career path? Here are some of our best tips:

1. Think About your Values

What are your big motivators in life? Why did you choose medicine in the first place? If you’re looking for help choosing a career path, it’s a good idea to start with why you chose medicine as a career. If you’re joining the medical profession to care for patients on an individual level, opening your own practice, expanding your patient base, or staying up to date on the most current research in your field might be your preferred trajectory. 

If you’re interested in shaping the medical field as a whole, you might think more about choosing an administrative role or even an organizational position with one of the provincial health care bodies. Whichever you choose, choosing a career path that aligns with your personal values as both a person and a physician is the key to your continuing engagement with your practice. 

2. Think About your Natural Skillset

What are you most good at? Is it managing people and administrative tasks? Is it leading others? Teaching? Or are you simply the most ‘in the zone’ when you’re sitting with your patients. Whatever your natural skillset is, following it has likely gotten you to where you are now in your specialization. Honing your strongest talents will help you with how to choose your career path and move forward as a physician. 

If there’s an aspect of medicine you love doing, but aren’t good at, there are plenty of continuing education options that will help you to learn. However, if there’s an aspect of clinical practice you simply do not enjoy, there’s a good chance trying to learn the skills – like business administration, research, or leadership – isn’t going to stick. 

Your career path should be about more than just money. Calling the shots might not be a good fit if you’re timid with people and prefer to spend time with your patients; similarly, logging hours in an administrative role won’t be a great choice if you love to be in the middle of the action in the ER. Think about what you are happiest doing and where you see yourself most enjoying your job and you will end up with a career that pays as well as it satisfies.

3. Plan Action Steps

While there are no limits on your goals, picking reasonable timeframes and breaking career goals down into pieces is a great way to start tackling them or thinking of creative ways to get there. For example, if financial security is especially important to you but your specialization pays less than others, there are realistic ways you could plan to earn more over the course of your career. You could supplement your income through teaching or academic opportunities, take on part time work as a locum, or save and invest wisely. You could also shoot for higher paying administrative or leadership roles or get additional credentials. 

You’re never limited in what you hope to achieve, but by planning ahead of time you can plot out a realistic route to get there – including what you need to study, the skills you need to have, the time you’ll need to invest, and when you should be looking to accomplish certain milestones. If you’re not sure, asking other physicians in your field who have accomplished similar goals is a good place to start. 

4. Expand your Network

Networking might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the field of medicine, but even doctors can benefit from the power of connection. Linking up with other physicians in your area or specialization is a great way to get some ideas about where your career could take you. Even if you don’t have a formal mentor relationship, older physicians are good models for what choosing a career path looks like in your area of medicine. How has their career changed over the past ten years? What kind of avenues for professional growth have they taken advantage of beyond their clinical practice? Are there any aspects of their career that you’d like to emulate for yourself? Talking to physicians who work in your specialization is a great way to get the most accurate advice about how to choose a career path within the field.

Staying in touch with former colleagues from medical school or residency positions is another great way to keep up with what doctors like you are doing with their careers. Keeping a profile on sites like LinkedIn and checking in periodically can help you to keep abreast of any interesting career directions you might want to try for yourself, such as working internationally, taking on a locum role, or working out of a specialty clinic, hospital, or long term care program. 

5. Talk to a Mentor

Whether you’re early on in your career or you’ve been practicing for quite some time, it’s never a bad idea to get a mentor involved. Not only will they be able to give you the most accurate advice and help for choosing a career path, they’ll also be able to provide advice and suggestions for getting out of rough patches, next moves, big leaps, and educational opportunities. Involving a mentor in the process of goal setting and career planning is a great way to get a second set of eyes on your plan, and choosing someone who has successfully taken a similar direction will help you to make career headway. In addition to advice, your mentor might have details about job openings or useful connections – and you wouldn’t have known until you asked!

6. Upgrade your Skill Set

If you’ve just finished medical school, more education might not be high on your priority list. However, if you’ve been working for a few years, it may be time to start thinking about additional certifications or degree programs. 

If a future in healthcare administration, a role leading and organizing other doctors, or other type of operations based role interests you, you might look into MBA programs, leadership training courses, Masters of Health Administration or other educational programs geared towards acquiring these skills. As you grow in your career, you might naturally find yourself in a leadership role more and more of the time. If leadership is something you decide to pursue as part of a five or ten year career goal, adding additional education earlier in your career will give you a head start. In addition, many programs geared towards professional students are offered part time and can be completed online – allowing you to balance your studies with your continuing practice. 

7. Think About Where You’re Headed

As a doctor, you’ll be part of the ever changing world of medicine for the duration of your career – so where do you think it will go? Is there any research coming out now that will change the way you practice? What about tools like virtual reality or Telehealth? Is the way your office looks now going to look the same 20 years from now? While medicine was previously one of the more consistent fields of service, now tools like virtual reality or telehealth systems, aging populations, and flexible job opportunities are changing the landscape. This can have broader effects on the demand for your services and the amount of opportunities available.

While nobody has a crystal ball, it’s not a bad idea to keep abreast of the research in your field, the supply of doctors in your specialization, and any factors that can change the demand for your medical services. All of these factors can impact the direction you’ll turn in the future, so make sure to keep checking in with your career goals to keep your trajectory on course. 

 

Conclusion 

How do you choose a career path in a world that is ever changing? Be flexible, mindful of your goals, and willing to get help along the way! With new opportunities in medicine appearing every day, physicians in Canada have an opportunity to take control of their careers more than ever before. So what are you waiting for? There’s never been a better time to start choosing your career path and plotting the perfect course for you.

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