Does your medical career five-year plan do this?

By Jonathan Ford Hughes | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published September 12, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • A five-year career plan should be a roadmap of personal and professional milestones.

  • When it comes to personal milestones, be specific in how you will maintain work-life balance and burnout.

  • When it comes to professional milestones, think outside the box and be open to non-traditional opportunities.

Goals are cheap and easy to come by. Planning, on the other hand, takes some serious work.

There’s some real utility in not just knowing where you want to be in five years, but more importantly, knowing how you’ll get there. That’s where Dr. Jacqueline Huntly, a physician career and leadership development coach, comes in. Huntly says that your five-year career plan should be a roadmap of personal and professional milestones. Here’s how to account for each.

"The more you have a sense for you own ability to control your destiny, the better positioned you’ll be."

Dr. Jacqueline Huntly

Personal milestones

Many of you will have (or hope to have, or wish you had) a personal life outside of medicine. What do you want to achieve in your personal life? Maybe you want to start a family, spend a month each year traveling, or volunteer more in your community.

“It’s perfectly legitimate and professional to address these things. That may sound obvious, but it’s not necessarily obvious to physicians,” Huntly says.

You read that right. It doesn’t have to be all about your career.

"In order to have a whole life, doctors need to start thinking about their own needs and relationship needs up front."

Dr. Jacqueline Huntly

Not doing so can have some unintended consequences, with the most dire being burnout. To avoid burnout and reach your personal milestones, you need to have a work-life balance.

“The new generation of physicians has seen some of the downsides of only focusing on work,” Huntley says. “You need to think of your personal milestones in terms of what medicine demands and requires in order to have great patient care.”

Some of you might be reading this thinking, what personal milestones? And that’s fine, Huntly says.

“No judgment here, but for some people, money might be the most important thing and compromises might need to be made for that.”

Professional milestones

If you’re a new physician, the journey doesn’t end with landing your dream job. And if you’re more established in your career, there’s still plenty of room for growth.

For those on the front end of their careers, Huntly says you should consider whether you’re interested in further clinical specialization. If so, maybe you should apply for some fellowships.

Doctors at any stage of their career should see leadership as a possible avenue for career growth. Medical leadership positions allow you to take on more responsibility and have more influence while still focusing on what brought you to medicine in the first place: caring for patients.

And just because you became a doctor doesn’t mean you have to stay in practice or practice in the traditional sense. Industry abounds with lucrative career options for doctors, including healthcare system leadership, positions in the insurance industry and roles at pharmaceutical companies.

Setting your professional milestones is all about knowing what you value, Huntley says.

“What are the things that are meaningful to you? What is meaningful about being in medicine? If you continually find meaning in medicine you’ll be much happier and you’ll be much more successful.”

What this means for you

Your five-year plan should be a roadmap of personal and professional milestones. Know what you want to achieve in your personal life. Be specific in how you will maintain a work-life balance to avoid burnout. Know that medicine is demanding, and if you let it have its way, it will blot out potential personal milestones. When considering professional milestones, think beyond the practice paradigm. Explore leadership roles, further specialization, and possible non-clinical positions.

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