Group of Physicians

Physician Career Planning: Serendipitous? Perhaps… Does it Have to Be?

By Terri Christensen, Ph.D.

Terr Christensen PhD

The ever-changing healthcare environment has presented a unique opportunity for physicians to expand their leadership outside of traditional medicine. This new landscape presents an opportunity for physicians to work in other areas, such as finance, continuous improvement, strategy, operations, and so on. In this current landscape, physicians seek new career avenues without losing the skills they have built thus far in their careers. However, the academic career pathway is very traditional as you look at the promotion process, and performance management hasn’t necessarily evolved to embrace this complexity.

I would argue that the trend of new physician administrative opportunities will only increase post-COVID-19. We need to explore the unique skills and acquired knowledge necessary to develop the physician leaders to support our systems. The question is, how do we help physicians be more intentional and forward-thinking about their next steps? Absence of a formal process, what can physicians do?

Begin at the End

I always try to start these conversations by asking for the physician’s end goal – where do they see themselves in 5, 10, 20 years? I have heard answers as far-ranging as wanting to have a balanced work/life situation, to those whose goal it is to be a future CEO of a major health corporation. Regardless of where you or your staff member falls on that spectrum, starting at the end ensures that the pathway you develop together leads to a destination you both want to reach.

A few reflection questions:

  • Who are the professionals you most admire? What is it about them that attracts you?
  • Think about your dream job or jobs. What do they look like? If you can identify multiple roles, what are the similar components of the job?
  • What do you want your legacy to be? Does this align with your dream job?

Do your homework

Once you have a clear understanding of what the goal is, it’s critical to understand the requirements needed to reach that goal.

  • As a first step, try searching for sample system job descriptions. Look at the requirements and qualifications. This information will allow you to understand the job requirements and explore whether you are willing to make those commitments or if this goal needs reconsidering.
  • The next step is to create a development plan or Individual Development Plan (IDP) once you’ve identified the requirements. The IDP can be as sophisticated as an electronic form you fill out through your organization’s talent portal, or as simplistic as a table you create that lists the requirements and provides a space for you to describe your plan for achieving those requirements.

Its technological advancement doesn’t determine the effectiveness of an IDP; instead, it’s determined by how easily you can use it as a foundation to start having conversations with your supervisors, asking for opportunities to expand your portfolio of experiences. In this sense, an IDP provides a map to explore the unique skills you need for an “off-road” experience.

A Few Questions…

  • Can you participate in a committee assignment, task force or search committee?
  • Does the organization have a fellowship in the area that you would like to gain expertise, i.e., strategy or finance? If not, is that something you can explore with your supervisor?
  • Do you need an advanced degree or additional formal coursework (i.e., an MBA or another advanced degree such as Ph.D.)?
  • Have you explored community organizations or your national organization (i.e., sitting on the board)?
  • Do you have a mentor or mentors?

Development planning is meant to be introspective. Absent of a more familiarized organizational process, physicians can work to be more intentional about their development.

H&H Associates, LLC works with clients to transform a seemingly serendipitous process into a framework for a fruitful development discussion. It not only assists individual staff members achieve their personal goals but also helps organizations by building a strong pool of candidates who are working toward the qualifications needed to run an organization – not just today but in the ever-changing future.

Terri Christensen, Ph.D.

CEO, H&H Associates, LLC

Dr. Christensen is the President of H&H Associates, a talent management firm based in Cleveland, Ohio. She has provided executive coaching and consulting services in the healthcare, higher education, and professional services sectors.

Terri can be reached at [email protected] and her LinkedIn profile is here:

Development, Leadership

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