As I posted in earlier blogs, up until a few months ago I was on the fast track in a career in academic medicine. I was at a high-point professionally even though I was still relatively early career. I was not always there though. In 2007 I was so unhappy that I actually looked for other jobs. The turning point in my professional life was when I read the book “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher as recommended by a pediatric intensivist named Linda Snelling who has expertise on negotiating and faculty development.
The main thing I learned as a professional academic was that if you want to make things better at work, you need to be accountable for what happens. This goes for other things in life like your weight, relationship, and finances. If you feel you are stuck in a dead-end job, or your boss does not appreciate you, or you feel too stressed out at work, ask yourself these questions:
1) Where do I want to be in 5 years professionally? What about 10 or 15 years? Be honest with yourself when you answer these questions. Come up with a realistic career trajectory, no matter what you do. For example, before I decided to move to another country to be a stay at home mom/writer, my 15 year-plan was to be the associate Dean of education at my medical school. If you are a waitress at a restaurant, would you like to be the manager in 5 or 10 years? If you are a teacher, would you like to be a reading specialist? The next question is closely related to this one.
2) What professional development activities will help me achieve my 5-, 10-, or 15-year plan? Do you need more training? I did a lot of training through my medical school’s Teaching Center, where I learned how to use the Blackboard Course Management System, design courses, and teach at the bedside. I also did a 3-year program for Educational Scholars. Can you perhaps attend conferences or workshops to obtain further training? If you are a cook at a restaurant, would your career be aided if you attended culinary school?
3) What projects or assignments am I working on currently that will allow me demonstrate my skills and talents? I used to tell my colleagues, “Tell me what you are doing, and I will make a project out of it.” I am not suggesting you take on new projects or assignments to shine. I am suggesting you analyze what you are doing already and disseminate it. For example, a few years ago I worked hard to change the way we rounded on patients and taught our residents and medical students at the bedside, based on an already established method. So what did I do to show a product for the countless hours I spent doing this? I joined forces with one of the nurse managers, and we collected data on the impact of “Family-Centered Rounds” on patient and nurse satisfaction. We presented the data at various conferences, and even won a “Best Practices” Award. Did you come up with a more efficient way to streamline customer service? Make a poster presentation at your next meeting with your boss. If possible, submit your protocol to a conference and share what you did with other colleagues. Believe me, your boss will notice.
4) What support do I need to achieve my 5-, 10-, and 15-year goals? Once you have demonstrated that you can take on and carry on a project, you will find yourself needing support to do more. Do you need an assistant? An office? A lap top? An iPAD to increase efficiency and productivity? More training? I never got an assistant or an iPAD, but I definitely became more productive when I got my beloved MacBook Air and installed Dropbox on it.
5) When was the last time I met with my boss to discuss the above questions? Once you have a firm answer to the questions above and at least one project that has positively impacted your work environment, talk to your boss about this. Use the negotiations tactics described in “Getting to Yes.” If you tell her that you have a 10-year plan within the company and demonstrate achievement, you will get her ear. This is also a good opportunity for you to hear what she thinks of your future in the company. She may tell you that you don’t have a future there, and if that is the case, then you know it’s time to move on.
While my knowledge of career negotiations is based on my personal experience as an academic physician, I do think that these 5 questions can be applied to any field. It is ironic that for me, applying these rules led me down a path that I thought I wanted, but then I decided to leave it, at least temporarily. I have no regrets of my previous career trajectory, because the credentials I obtained by following the path outlined in this blog post allowed me to have 2 job offers waiting upon my return…..If I ever do return to academic medicine.
Only you can decided what is best for you and your family. You may analyze your situation and decide you want to put your career on hold like I did. But don’t continue in a toxic professional situation. Be empowered to redesign your life to make it what you want. No one else will do it for you.