Goal Setting for Physicians

Most physicians I know see themselves as natural goal setters. And indeed we are, but good goal setters of a particular type – the long-distance goal. We’re expert at the four-year plans well represented by the college to medical school to residency path. We’re about as hot as the rest of humanity at the shorter term aspirations, which is to say not very hot at all. So read on to learn more about goal setting for physicians.

Because for all the hype, the slick little acronyms, the diaries, daybooks and planners, goal setting and goal achieving are a cross country drive apart – you’ll not make it in a couple of days and you’ll have blown tires or detours somewhere along the way, usually just when you thought things were going swimmingly.

There are all sorts of mnemonics out there to help you achieve your goals. Be SURE for specific, understand what’s involved, realistic, and being enthusiastic. Not for you? How about SMART for specific, measurable, attainable[also action-oriented or achievable], realistic and tangible?

Somehow these don’t cut it if you’re after bigger fish than a better exercise schedule. So, I, humbly, offer the following observations formed from my own school of hard knocks.

Quite a few physicians are thinking about a career change. Many people might think that most highly educated people like a physician or an attorney wouldn’t consider doing something different than what they’re educated for but the fact of the matter is that many professionals in these fields are busy with moving into other lines of work.

Many of these well-educated professionals are additionally working towards an MBA degree which will result in many new career options in healthcare administration, law office administrative jobs, or comparable positions that are different from, though slightly related to, their current profession.

Ten tips to help physicians set more achievable goals

1. Suspend any idea that because we’re physicians and that we’re better at it than the rest of humanity. I’d argue for the converse- our long-range educational programs actually require you to make one big goal every few years – not necessarily great training for the real world. We, as well, may have to do a job interview and also we will have to make that good first impression.

2. Never set out on a goal alone. Would you climb Everest or cross the Sahara solo? Share – it both lightens the load and adds incentive to not quitting too easily. Be vulnerable and humble – these are winning qualities off of Wall Street.

3. Pick reasonable timelines. I like goals in the 3-9 month range, especially the latter, it seems a natural timeline for us humans for obvious reasons.

4. Stick to a few goals. It’s tedious listening to someone seem to make everything in their lives a horse race. Military job seekers may benefit from transitioning programs as well as long as they know and stick to their goals.

5. Try to be both practical and inspirational. By all means, get the deck in next summer, just make the railing posts a bit out of the ordinary so you have to go to research some design questions. Ditto for the practice’s elaborate new mission and vision statements, just don’t forget to make daily life better for the front desk staff too.

6. Make sure your goals are considerate of others in your life at home and at work. These days, jobs that allow for telecommuting shouldn’t be that hard to find and this sort of jobs can really help balance your life. You should talk to a career coach and get a clear picture of your options.

7. Have at least one goal that incorporates unhinging yourself from your past. Most of us, me included, handicap ourselves by holding on to some upset or injury earlier in our lives. We’ve all been victims, we’ve all behaved badly. Toss the baggage. In my case, as soon as I stopped feeling like I was in competition with my father, I began to make better career decisions.

8. Do revisit the goals in a thoughtful and deliberate way. This is less about measurement (and I say this as a metrics-minded guy), rather about avoiding the perils of aimless drifting. It’s a particular reason to share as in point #2 above. There are many online degree options that enable physicians who are not happy in their current positions to choose a more rewarding professional track.

9. Take a chance. Remember that old ABBA song, or am I being too lowbrow now? We’re not great risk-takers, most of us physicians but, who knows, is Life Coaching your cup of tea. Isn’t that actually what we were educated to do anyway?

10. Finally, expect and embrace the unexpected. It is not so much that I subscribe to the “everything happens for a reason” view. Rather, that great thing can come along, if you’re open to the possibilities. Value your goals; just don’t hang onto them like a shipwrecked man holding a life jacket.

Today, the working environment may leave many employees, also physicians and other healthcare professionals, feeling insecure, vulnerable, and undervalued. Many lawyers and doctors may find themselves feeling blocked or stuck into their jobs without any perspective or knowing where to go. If this all sounds familiar to you, get in touch with a career coach. These professionals know what they’re doing. it could be very well time for your career change.