Personal and Professional Measures of Success for Physicians

April 15, 2014

Motivators like financial success and a fulfilling work environment are not equally shared by all physicians. It is important to ask yourself what really matters to you.

We often use the term work-life balance to describe a somewhat vague concept that is the modern equivalent of "having it all." Recently, a Harvard Business Review article discussed work-life balance and highlighted what the components of professional and personal success are for both men and women.

This intrigued me because I often pursue professional or personal success without firmly identifying what the components of success are. Not surprisingly, in the HBR article, men and women differed in how they defined success. Some of the responses intrigued me. For example, a small minority of both men and women define professional success as enjoying work on a daily basis. Personally, that is one of my top measures of professional success. Also, more men than women rated rewarding relationships as a measure of personal success, although it was the top response in both groups.

Having just completed a CME course on "Managing Physician Performance," I am thinking a lot lately about physician professional development. This survey made me consider that we often miss important conversations with our managers, our colleagues, and those we manage by failing to ask important questions - how do you measure professional success and how do you manage personal success? Understanding these components of individual motivation are important, yet often assumed or neglected. For example, how you work with a physician whose primary measures of professional and personal success are passion for the work and financial stability for her family, respectively, is very different from how you might work with a physician who values enjoying work on a daily basis and rewarding relationships with his family. How would each of these physicians respond differently to a request to stay an extra hour in clinic to see patients?

I'm sure that you, like me, have many personal and professional responsibilities coming at you on a weekly basis. It can be difficult to look at these opportunities without any gauge about how they fit into our personal values for work and for life. However, writing down your top three indicators of success at work and life can be a helpful way to identify what types of activities and opportunities you are likely to value and will make it easier to filter requests in a way that maximizes acceptance of things that are likely to float your boat, so to say.

In looking at HBR's list, I realize that rewarding relationships is probably my top indicator of personal success. This explains why even as an introvert, I try to spend my limited time with friends and family regularly. Like all the women surveyed, I do not see financial success as a measure of personal success. Therefore, in questions of work-life balance, I rarely choose the most financially advantageous option for that reason alone.

My challenge to my readers this week is to figure out your own personal and professional measures of success in order to figure out both how you're doing with work-life balance and how you can improve.