It's that time of year again when the job market gets primed, and physician candidates prepare to hit the interview trail. But have you set goals for your career? Without them, you don't have a prayer of finding your way around an increasingly complex and growing job market.
A great many people view goal-setting as trying to predict the future. It's not; it's deciding what you would like the future to hold. It requires visualization, research, and commitment. Obviously, if you have a spouse, family, or significant other whose future is tied to yours, he or she needs to be part of this process.
Begin by establishing finance, career, and lifestyle goals. Propose where you would like to see yourself in five years. Obviously, career goals should drive the others. A five-year goal could be an administrative position in a community hospital ED, acquiring research grant funding, or obtaining associate professorship. Many physicians view their careers strictly in financial terms; all their goals begin with a dollar sign, but don't ignore job satisfaction and fulfillment when mapping out goals. Three-year goals should be the stepping stones for achieving the five-year goals, and one-year goals are a first step toward three- and five-year goals.
Your finance goal may be to earn no less than $325,000, and to sock away 15 percent of it into a retirement fund. Propose where you would like to see yourself in three years: earning a salary of no less than $290,000 and saving no less than 10 percent. And where do you see yourself in the first year? Earning a salary of no less than $250,000 and putting aside no less than five percent? If you have school loans, figure their payback schedule into your financial planning. Of course, all of this depends on the type of employer you select. Some smaller groups don't experience great income growth, just a steady level over the years that can creep up or down depending on census and acuity. Hospital-based employers don't always include a cost-of-living raise or an incentive package. Some of the best retirement packages come from equal-ownership opportunity groups. Research these when interviewing by asking what kind of income growth you can anticipate and the history of income growth over a five-year period.
You also may find that you shot too high for five years, and will have to amend the long-term goals. Or the opposite could be true. Just be prepared to start over if your progress seems unrealistic. A good goal on your three-year list, for instance, should be passing your emergency medicine boards.
Lifestyle goals reflect how you are living, the geographic location, and the size and makeup of your family. A five-year lifestyle goal could be a four-bedroom, three-bath home on at least one acre somewhere in Pennsylvania, two kids, and a ferret. The three-year goal can be a three-bedroom, two-bath house or condo anywhere in the middle Atlantic states, one kid, and possibly a ferret. And the one-year goal could just be to find somebody to marry you, and forget about the ferret. Seriously, lifestyle goals can be the most difficult because of the influences of nature and circumstances, but it doesn't hurt to plan ahead. If you confine yourself to a small geographic region, you will have to settle for whatever is available there. Most graduating residents define their search parameters around location, which often can lead to joining the statistical category of the more than 55 percent of graduates who leave their first jobs within two years, primarily because they took the wrong job in a desired location.
Another caveat is that sometimes one has to move out to move up. If you accept a position with a one-site private group that has a director who isn't going anywhere, what kind of growth can you expect? In this case, your goals aren't the only ones to consider. What are theirs? Perhaps you are happy just to find a job at a good income in the place you've always wanted to live, and you'll just coast your way into retirement. It's one way to go, but is it the best choice for you?
Once you've established your goals, you will be able to craft a plan for achieving them. It's a pyramid for success; just don't ignore the planning stage. These goals and the plans for attaining them are a contract you are making with yourself: Write them down. A tip for graduating residents: As you begin to interview for your first job, prospective employers nearly always ask about short- and long-term goals. Imagine how impressive you will be when you can respond with a concrete plan.