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New year’s career goals for doctors

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Last year around this time I tried to help you prep for the new year with resolutions for medical professionals. This year, I’m helping you get the most out of the upcoming year with my best advice on how to establish your professional goals for the year. Career goals for doctors vary widely, but these five steps are relevant to just about everyone.

Why spend time each year establishing career goals as a physician? It makes for a productive year that drives you closer to your long-term goals.

It’s so easy to get into the grind and fall into the trap of “working for the weekend.” If this happens, the entire year can go by and all you’ll have to show for it is one year’s salary. One year’s salary for a physician is nothing to scoff at. But what if you could end the year that and:

  • one year’s effort at getting a business off the ground,
  • one year’s knowledge from learning a new subject, one year’s experience with a new side hustle, or
  • one year’s dedication to a cause you care deeply about?

Here’s how to get started on an ultra-effective, super-fulfilling professional life in the new year.

1. Reflect on the past year

On the surface, spending time on reflection may seem like a step backwards. But forcing yourself to admit the not-so-great parts can help you avoid repeating these. And allowing yourself to bask in the successes of the past year will assist you in having more of these in the upcoming year. A sample of questions you might consider asking yourself:

  • What was my greatest accomplishment in the past year?
  • What did I enjoy the most in my work and professional activities?
  • What activities were the most financially worthwhile?
  • What did I spend time on that aligned with my values, and what didn’t align?

Some of this reflection should be the touchy-feely type in which you contemplate your happiness and ruminate about your emotions. However, it should also be objective. Pull out pay stubs and bank statements, work contracts, your updated resume, or the small business plan you wrote last year, for example. Ask your spouse his or her perspective on how things went for you professionally over the last 12 months. Once you’ve thought about the past, turn your attention to the upcoming months.

2. Think about what your future (most likely) holds

Of course we can’t predict the future. Stuff happens. Life happens. But I’m a firm believer that planning and preparing set us up to be “lucky” and for things to go the way we want them to more times than not. So take a broad look at your schedule and obligations for the upcoming year.

  • Are you expecting any big work changes – promotions, restructurings, layoffs?
  • What changes to your personal life or your family members lives may impact your professional endeavors?
  • What commitments have you made that deserve your time and effort next year?

Be honest with yourself. Some of what comes our way is inevitable, but much of it we have at least some amount of control over.

3. Brain-dump possible goals for the year

Write down all your potential goals for the year relating to work, your career, and professional activities. Big ones and small ones. Perhaps there are a few you could accomplish in a single weekend if you really hunkered down. While others may take you the better part of the year or longer. (I’m not too concerned about the difference between goals, objectives, and outcomes in this case. This is really just an exercise to help yourself have a truly prosperous year when it comes to your career. “Goals” here is used somewhat loosely.) Brain dumps can get messy. For some people, this is perfect in order to let the creative juices flow. Others, though, require organization to think straight. If this is you, break down your brainstorm into categories. Your groupings can include goals related to a few or all of these:

In this step, you can write down anything that comes to mind. It’s okay if they’re unrealistic or if they’re overly simplistic. This is the time to explore your ambitions. It’s the stage at which you can get down on paper the wide-ranging thoughts about your career that may have been floating around in your head in the past few months.

4. Do a critical review

Now walk away from your list for at least a few hours. A day or two (or more) is even better. Don’t intentionally think about it during this time. But if you find it running through your thoughts form time to time, that’s okay. Once you return to it, critically and honestly think about each item. Decide which you truly have the desire and motivation to accomplish. Ask yourself a few questions about each: Why is this a goal of mine? This is the most important question. If you can’t pinpoint why you have a certain goal, then it’s probably not worth staying on the list. Your “why” can be a personal value, a religious belief, your own understanding of what makes you happy, or the need to accomplish something order to achieve a bigger, longer-term goal. Is it realistic? If not, can it be refined to be realistic? It may be fine to aim for 20% more income from a side hustle that’s been steadily profitable for the past few years. On the other hand, a goal of making $50,000 on a new business that isn’t off the ground yet may end up leaving you disappointed come this time next year. Your professional goals can be lofty, and even daring.. but do try to be down-to-earth. Can I commit to this? A goal can be a fantastic one, but if you’re not in a position to commit to accomplishing it, then strike it from the list. You may have other priorities – kids, for example – and will be better off putting a goal on the back burner and committing to it a few years from now. Cutting something from the list doesn’t mean it’s a poor goal. Striking an item simply means that other goals are more appropriate for you right now. Maybe you’ll strive for it another year. Or you’ll break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces and achieve it over the course of several years. Or you’ll decide that it’s simply not as important to you as other ambitions. You should end up with just a handful of goals. That leads us right into the final step…

5. Set yourself up for success

By brutally pairing down you’re list, you’ve taken the most important measure to set yourself up for success in accomplishing your goals next year. Too many goals prevents you from being focused and gets overwhelming. Concentrating your efforts on just a few helps you to never lose sight of them as the year progresses. Review each of your final goals and decide what you need to make it happen. Will it require substantial time on your part? Set aside the time, or plan for when you’ll put in the time. If possible, block off time in your calendar. You might have to shift this around later, but getting it on the books is a good first step. Do you need accountability? Share your goal right away with a spouse, colleague, or someone else who will ask you periodically how it’s going, or remind you how enthusiastic you were about it. What resources, supplies, knowledge, or network do you need to reach your goal? Log into Amazon and buy your supplies now. Register for an online course or membership to an organization now. Set aside the budget you’ll need for future expenses now so that you can’t use money as an excuse later. By this time next year, you’ll be reflecting on on the past 12 months and will feel accomplished.

7 thoughts on “New year’s career goals for doctors”

  1. I like this concept a lot.

    Each new year gives us a “blank slate” to reassess life, both past, present, and future.

    The problem with most New Year’s resolutions is that they don’t last because we set unrealistic goals.

    I want to lose 40 lbs and hit the gym daily is a great resolution to have, but most of us can’t hit it and get discouraged and then drop it off.

    Accountability is also great to have and if you can not only write your goals but share them, it may give you more incentive to reach them. That is why community helps, whether friends or family or even online. You are much more likely for success if you have someone to work out with and hold each other accountable.

    That is why I like it with people share their goals on their website and at the end of the year check the ones they hit and the ones they didn’t

    • I agree with your thoughts! I think a lot of New Year’s resolutions fail because they are just that – resolutions. Resolving to do or not do something. Goals have much more meat to thiem!

    • My goals are to get a sustainable job board up and running, and to develop a quiz to help docs determine what unconventional medical careers are a good fit for them. Both of these have been in the works, but slow-moving. How about your goals for Vital PE and the nonclinical podcast?

  2. Nice piece. Especially how you lay out specific ares to consider. Also agree that docs don’t think in terms of career development like business people do- and we should do more of that. I wrote an article for Forbes.com on why New Years’ resolutions are inherently “depressogenic”. And what to do instead- review accomplishments and set carefully constructed goals that are doable bits. Happy to share it http://www.forbes.com/sites/prudygourguechon/2019/01/01/why-you-should-ditch-depressing-new-years-resolutions-and-do-this-instead/

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