It’s not easy to become a medical school professor, especially if you’re a woman. Only 38% of full-time faculty members at accredited med schools are female, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). That daunting statistic is one of the reasons Nadine Katz, a professor of clinical ob-gyn and women’s health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and vice president and medical director at Montefiore Medical Center’s Einstein campus, got interested in helping aspiring female med school professors achieve their goals.
Katz taught a leadership course at AAMC for ten years. One of the themes she covered: how to pick and stick to career goals. Her strategy has proved effective in the medical realm, but she has also found that it applies to any profession and to men and women alike.
The first step, according to Katz: Take full responsibility for your career. You may be sailing along with tons of support from your colleagues, your family and your boss. But you need to take hold of your future. “Your success and your promotion should be your focus,” she says. “When you choose projects and you get involved in service work or committees, there should be a strategy to that,” she adds. Too many of us get swept up entirely in day-to-day matters, she observes.
She recommends several kinds of exercises for assessing skills and setting goals. If you want eventually to rise to a leadership position, try an online leadership assessment tool (search for “leadership self assessment” and you’ll find a slew of free ones). Ask yourself these questions: Do I motivate other people? Do I build relationships? Do I manage conflict well? Do I delegate appropriately? Do I communicate goals and expectations clearly?
You might decide you’d rather be a team member than a leader. That’s part of assessing your skills and strengths, Katz says. Look at what energizes you, what makes you feel fulfilled.
She likes the idea of setting short-, intermediate- and long-term goals. The short term would be one to three years, the medium three to five. The long term looks much further out. Getting clear on your short-term goals can help you evaluate whether to volunteer for a committee or take on an extra work assignment. Will that new responsibility help you get where you want to go?
Katz is also big on mentors. If your goal is to move up within your organization or company, find someone who has already climbed that ladder, and ask for help charting your course.
For help defining your ambitions. Katz likes an exercise called “histories of the future,” originated by the Center for Applied Research, a management consulting outfit. Project where you want to be a decade from now. Then imagine what you’ll have had to do to get there. What awards did you win? What steps did you take? If you can find a colleague or mentor to talk through this exercise with you, all the better.
Your career goals can and should take into account activities and interests outside of work, Katz says. She has counseled many young doctors and med students on their careers, like a student who revealed that she was ready to start a family. Finding time to care for a child became one of her career goals.
Then there is the challenge of the unknown. “If she becomes pregnant and there’s a complication, then her focus goes there,” Katz says. Part of mapping a career is accepting that you may have a change of course you can’t control. Many medical specialties don’t naturally offer time out for family. In Katz’s field, obstetrics and gynecology, she ruefully notes, “I’d say you’d have some free time when you’re 65 years old, or maybe 67.”
“I recommend people be creative in their approach to the work-life balance and to determine what works best for the person and his or her family,” adds Katz. “Ob-Gyn inherently has some flexibility due to the demands of the field, and that’s where the creativity part comes in. It’s possible to do it all, just not at the same time.”
Beyond family, ask yourself what else you’re passionate about. Are you an avid rock climber who wants to scale a new peak every year? Do you desperately want to own a Lamborghini? “It’s OK to want a certain level of lifestyle,” says Katz. “We don’t have multiple lives. Whether you want to have lots of babies or a big house or a fancy car, those goals go on your plate as things you value.” Whatever your focus, she adds, “you will get more satisfaction out of your career if you are more clear with yourself about what your values are.”
Sometimes you confront a new challenge and discover a new goal. Katz’s own goal used to be providing the best possible medical care for her patients. Then she started teaching, counseling and mentoring and uncovered a keen interest in leadership. “I found I was enjoying things I hadn’t thought of,” she says. “Instead of feeling derailed, I tried to reassess, refocus and look at what skills I had.” She adds, “I also looked at what skills I needed to get, and how I could train myself to achieve my next goal.”
This is an update of a story that appeared previously.
This article was written by Susan Adams from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.