Developing Your Career as an Academic Physician

For all early-career physicians out there, I am sure you were not only looking for the latest in science at AHA 2020 but also some guidance on career development, and the session “Developing your Career as an Academic Physician” was just perfect.  Here I will review some of the fantastic talks from this session.

It started with “Pearls for Becoming an Academic Leader” by Dr. Jennifer S. Lawton, chief cardiac surgery at Johns Hopkins University, and offered the perfect blend of inspiration, encouragement, and advice on being an academic leader. I am sharing some pearls from this talk:

  • DECIDE: Decide if leadership is right for you and why you want to be a leader?
  • PREPARE: Prepare to be a leader (leadership books/courses), gain experience (program director, lab director, multidisciplinary teams, write protocols for your institution), learn time management for different roles (clinical, academic, leadership, mentorship), and build your credibility.
  • COMMUNICATE: Keep your CV updated and make it available at a moment’s notice and be ready to articulate your 5 and 10-year goals.
  • ATTACH: Attach yourself to mentors and learn from their success/failures and seek their advice regularly. Find sponsors who can open doors for you.
  • 70/20/10 Rule: Being an academic leader is 70% on the job training, 20% is learned from mentors/sponsors and 10% is formal leadership training.

The follow-up amazing talk was “What Really is Work-Life Balance” by Dr. Sasha Shillcutt, Tenured Professor of Anesthesiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Loss of control over work is an important reason for burnout and this talk really re-framed my concept of Work-Life balance as it emphasized the concept that we are in the “driver’s seat” of our career. Two main concepts that were presented are:

  • Time Management Traps & Myths: Learn to say “No” to tasks that no longer interest you and success is directly linked to saying no.
  • Set Boundaries: Successful health care workers set boundaries that are intentional, efficient, and healthy. It takes practice and planning to set boundaries but they make your life easy.

“Maintaining Clinical Skills While Working in the Lab” is a challenge faced by physician-scientists and Dr. Emily MacKay from the University of Pennsylvania discussed some remarkable strategies for this.

  • Cognitive Reframing: The idea is to reframe your perspective about a challenge into an opportunity while the objective facts of the situation remain the same. For researchers that spend most of their time in the lab, make the most of your clinical time and develop “deliberate practice” where the focus is on quality, attention to detail, mindful and purposeful performance of procedures.
  • Context Switching: If you hit roadblocks with one problem where the solutions are not obvious you can physically distance yourself from the problem, and then come back to it later and this will help you find a solution.
  • Handling Commitment: Using the Eisenhower matrix to identify tasks that are urgent and important and need to be handled quickly vs tasks are urgent but not important and can be delegated or tasks that are important but not urgent and can be scheduled.

I will encourage all early careers to watch this session and take notes as it is full of pearls for career development.


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