Passive versus active – Part 1

Many of those attending Medical Forum think they have been career planning. They may indeed have been doing a lot of things, achieving milestones and taking on a lot of different roles or workstyles (at times in an attempt to stumble across the “solution” to a background career dissatisfaction). However this is NOT career planning per se. It is a much more passive approach where a person either takes an obvious or prerequisite step, follows options that pass by in front of them or they “look and see what’s out there”. Yet there is no clear vision of what is sought ( other than something that is not what they are currently doing “Mmm ... maybe that would be better than what I am doing now” sort of approach). . So there is a certain cohort of doctors who think they are planning their careers, when in fact they are merely joining the dots.

This is very much a passive or, in some cases, a lesser of evils strategy for career management - in fact it could be said to be not career management at all.

Career planning is an altogether more proactive process and requires a set of skills, most often starting with inspiration or vision or a simple desire for something you would like more of in your work. Vital note: this is not an attempt to move away from something but to move towards it. There is difficulty in planning towards something you don’t want to do. Many people think that, by stating the things they don’t want, they are somehow moving ahead. In reality, if you were booking a holiday and all you said was “ well, I don’t want to go to Spain or to a beach hotel” you would not be that much further ahead. Ok - maybe a wee bit. But if you then repeat this over and over “no Spain, no beach” you can see that one merely stays stuck and there is no real incentive for the brain to make headway as it has been firmly instructed “whatever you do - do NOT book a beach in Spain”. Dead halt. If on the other hand you state “travelling somewhere remote, ecotourism and working in animal conservation”, this is a much more empowering way of moving ahead. The brain’s goal seeking autopilot, and indeed internet searches, can then take over.

What is more it is simply not motivating to use the stick for career planning when the carrot works so much better.

There is a much more active way of career planning, but because medicine as a career has been so prescriptive, formulaic and structured there can be a tendency for some to step on the travelator at 18; so long as you hang onto the handrail and jump the various hoops you will at the end of it become a GP. Along the way there will have been little encouragement to think laterally about one’s career ... perhaps because, at the end of the day, GP bums on GP chairs in GP surgeries are needed.

I suggest this is not enough for all GPs ( I would hazard most) because medicine is selected by some ambitious and/or highly motivated and bright young things. Even if career priority has been temporarily hijacked by raising a family, those traits are generally still lurking.

Once at the end of the registrar year, the GP career can for some be an eternity stretching ahead.... more of a plateau at first glance than, say, a hospital career with the additional hospital years training and the many management roles. Yet they too eventually reach a career plateau. GP or hospital, even those with apparently glittering careers on paper, can end up feeling “been there, done that - what now?”.

So if you are entirely happy with your career currently, if it fits the bill temporarily or permanently, next edition’s tip is not for you ( although you might need it one day!!)

Sonia Hutton-Taylor's ebook 'Prepare to career plan' is available for download. Sonia is the founder of Medical Forum Career Management.

Sonia Hutton-Taylor

Dr Sonia Hutton-Taylor is the founder of Medical Forum Career Management and the author of an ebook Easy career change - good career choice.

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  1. […] the last edition of The Sessional GP, the issue of being too passive in career planning terms was discussed. It might be an idea to refresh your mind on this […]

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