Throughout history great thinkers and average folk have asked two questions central to our successful existence: “Who am I?” and “What do I want?” Together, they pose a tricky riddle and many of us will likely live our entire lives without ever answering either one! But most of us would agree that one path toward solving the puzzle is to think about, articulate and set goals for our lives.

At a recent Leadership Forum for Chief Residents in Ophthalmology, Wesley Millican, President of CareerPhysician, spoke to a group of newly-appointed Chief Residents about goals.

“A goal is an end toward which you direct a specific effort,” Millican said. He described a goal as consisting of three separate elements:

  • an accomplishment to be achieved
  • a measurable outcome
  • a specific date and time to accomplish or complete the goal.

Good Goals

But what makes a “good goal?” According to Millican, you first need to do a little soul searching. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What kind of Chief Resident am I currently?
  • What kind of Chief Resident do I want to become?
  • As the Chief Resident, what values are important to me?
  • What do I want to accomplish during my term as Chief Resident?
  • Why do so many of us avoid setting goals?

“Well, because it’s hard work,” says Millican. “Goals force you to think about the road ahead and make some plans. It can also be discouraging at first, because success is not always immediate or initially recognizable,” he added.

“Setting and reaching your goals takes practice, lots of it”, says Millican. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. With practice, defining and reaching your goals can become almost second-nature. And once you get in the habit, it will serve as a positive, sustaining force in your life, on your path towards success.”

Bring Clarity to your Goals

The biggest obstacle to setting goals is lack of focus and clarity. It’s not enough to really want to improve your residency program. You need to be specific. Set goals that can be documented, measured, quantified.

As an example, if you think that tardiness is a problem in your program, set a goal of reducing and then eliminating tardiness in three months. If you’re concerned about medical knowledge, institute a weekly study/quiz program and set specific and measurable passing requirements.

Defining Goals

Here are some guidelines to help you define specific goals:

  • What? Put the goal in writing. Just this simple act forces you to think and be specific about what you want to accomplish.
  • How? Develop a written strategy for reaching the goal. Describe exactly how you will go about making it happen.
  • Why? Describe the benefits of achieving this goal to all the stakeholders – yourself, the other residents, the other fellows, the faculty and administration, patients, families, etc.
  • Who? Define who will be involved in making this goal a reality.
  • When? Set a timeline and commit to it.

As Chief Resident or Senior Fellow, you should always involve the other residents in the process of defining, setting, and achieving goals. You will need to solicit input from all the stakeholders in the process. Be sure to delegate and share responsibility and then schedule regular meetings to review progress and make adjustments.

Success at Goal Setting

Meeting your goals requires commitment, perseverance and, most of all, practice. Don’t expect to get it all right the first time and don’t expect instant results.

Keep in mind these tips and you will be successful in identifying, articulating, measuring and meeting your goals:

  • be proactive and positive
  • be flexible and adaptive: change will happen eventually
  • be pragmatic: never stop chipping away at achieving your goals. Retool and modify as needed.
  • write your goals down and re-visit them often
  • create a simple and accurate way to measure your progress toward meeting each specific goal
  • share your goals with your mentor, your colleagues, your family ? they’ll hold you accountable
  • implement NOW; perfect later
  • don’t procrastinate

Why is it important to set goals?

Achievement and accomplishments do not happen accidentally, says Millican. Success, achievement and the satisfaction of making a difference and doing it right are very good feelings. But it is very difficult to get there without defining, setting, and acting upon your goals until they are reached.. Simply put, “good goals” will determine what you will or will not become or accomplish as Chief Resident in your program.

About the Author:

Wesley D. Millican, MBA, CEO and Physician Talent Officer of CareerPhysician Advisors, LP, and CareerPhysician, LLC, provides comprehensive talent solutions for academic children’s hospitals, colleges of medicine and academic medical centers across the nation. He possesses a longstanding passion for career development of all young physicians and serves as a go to career resource for training program directors and their residents and fellows. In continuing his commitment to the “future of medicine”, Mr. Millican speaks nationally at residency and fellowship programs. His Launch Your Career® Series is a proven resource for today’s residents and fellows and has served as a go to resource for program directors over the last 15 years.