From the Starting Line | Ushering in the New Year: Starting a New Career Phase

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December 2017: As the newest member of our cardiovascular group, I volunteered for STEMI and general cardiology call coverage over the Christmas holidays. It was my last set of call duty for the 2017 year and it would enable my senior colleagues to spend the holidays with their families. The holiday call was busy, but I got through it and I spent the next couple of days reflecting and celebrating the successful completion of 2017. It was a great year, with major milestones: successfully completing five months in my new job as an interventional cardiologist and working with a great team of senior colleagues. No longer a “newbie” at the job, it was time to think about the next steps for my career.

Most graduating cardiovascular trainees start their first job in July or August. The first six months on the job, July to December, are used to “settle” into the role of an attending/consultant physician, build your practice, take relevant board exams (cardiology or subspecialty boards) and establish a regular work flow routine. Similar with the end-of-rotation evaluation, the six-month mark in January or February provides a great opportunity for a little personal scrutiny of the early phases of our career: areas of success and areas for improvement. Here are a few recommendations for the new year and the next phase of the early career journey.

Purpose and Goals. Identify your career goals and vision. Take time to reflect on what provides you with fulfilment or job satisfaction. A sense of direction will provide you with purpose in the daily work routine, increase the likelihood of professional satisfaction and prevent emotional exhaustion and burnout. Have regular personal check-ins to ensure you’re moving towards your career goals. If things aren’t progressing in the direction you envisioned, ask yourself why. Career goals may change over time – that is fine. Life is an adventure. Embrace change and keep it positive.

Balance. Work-life balance is important. You’ve spent several years studying to become a physician. Sacrifices have been made. Dedicate some time to your family and loved ones, and make sure they know they are important to you. Time is a gift. Give your loved ones a bit of your time. The hospital and clinic will probably continue to function when you’ve moved on or retired. Network. Build relationships within and outside your organization/work place. Learn from others. Someone has successfully navigated their career through obstacles you may encounter and is willing to share the lessons they’ve learned. Attend meetings/conferences (within and outside your organization), and keep in touch with old acquaintances. The ACC member sections are a great resource to network with individuals with similar career interests.

Mentorship. Find a mentor(s) at your institution. This will facilitate your career development and help you understand your organization’s culture and pathway to promotion. Successful mentorship involves trust and both parties should create time to meet or communicate regularly. In addition to institutional mentors, seek mentor(s) outside your institution and stay in touch with your fellowship training mentors. The ACC and other cardiovascular societies are a great source for mentors. Watch for the ACC’s formal mentoring program. In addition, be a mentor. Invest in someone else. We all have something to give. Look around for someone you can mentor. It is never too early (or late), to mentor someone else.

Wellness. We can improve our personal resilience and reduce the likelihood of burnout by engaging in healthy habits: eat right, exercise regularly and catch up on sleep. No matter how stressful or busy our work schedules, we are still human and need to take care of ourselves. Pack a lunch bag, make healthy choices at the cafeteria, formulate an exercise plan, carry a Fitbit device: whatever works, get started and do it. Identify early signs of emotional/mental stress and find healthy ways to de-stress.

Financial Planning. Learn how to manage your personal finances and save for retirement and the future. This is important for you and your family. Visit ACC.org member sections for financial planning tips and recommendations.

Lifelong Learning. In academic practice, educational opportunities are seamlessly built into the schedule to keep physicians up-to-date with cardiovascular trends. Take advantage of these opportunities. A well-informed physician is a good physician. For early career physicians in nonacademic practice settings, active personal steps might be needed to ensure compliance with lifelong learning. Attend national cardiovascular meetings/conferences, board review courses and consider purchasing online education resources. ACC.org has a variety of online education activities, and the ACC transmits earned continuing medical education (CME) and maintenance of certification (MOC) credits directly to your American Board of Internal Medicine profile.

A wise person once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Celebrate small successes, learn from mistakes and keep moving forward. As we journey together, I hope we’ll all have success stories to share. Join ACC’s Early Career Section, network with other early career physicians and share your stories.


Nkechi Ijioma, MD, FACC, is an interventional cardiologist at Altru Health System in Grand Forks, ND, and clinical assistant professor at the University of North Dakota.

Clinical Topics: Prevention, Stress

Keywords: ACC Publications, Cardiology Magazine, ACC18, ACC Annual Scientific Session, Work-Life Balance, Mentors, Job Satisfaction, Workplace, Holidays, Fellowships and Scholarships, Retirement, Education, Medical, Continuing, Personal Satisfaction, Burnout, Professional, Consultants, Friends, Workflow, Myocardial Infarction, Rotation, Education, Distance, Goals, Mentors, Training Support, Stress, Psychological, Maintenance, Hope, Certification, Habits


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