Return to Blog Homepage

How to Reach Your Goals in Medicine: Keep an Eye on Your “Why”

  • by Dr. Brian Radvansky
  • Jan 30, 2024
  • Reviewed by: Amy Rontal

Believe it or not, I’m a sucker for self-improvement and personal development. I imagine that in some ways, you are too.

You’re probably on a decades-long journey to becoming the most phenomenal physician you can be. That requires working on your personal and professional development, seeking ways to improve your efficiency, gathering more knowledge, developing your interpersonal skills, and networking.

The good news is, the road to becoming a physician leader is full of opportunities for growth. And yet, when opportunity knocks, how do you turn it into success?

The answer to that question isn’t always clear. This past Christmas, I received the book “Seven Tools for Life” by Arnold Schwarzenegger. While I wasn’t expecting anything transformative, every self-development book like this usually has at least one pearl of wisdom that lights some fire beneath me and inspires me to grow. And it didn’t take long for me to find in this one. 

I’d like to share what this book taught me about achieving success, because I believe it’ll help you become a great doctor. As you’ll see, it’s all about making sure everything you do moves you closer to what you really want in life.

Let’s take a closer look at what the Terminator has to say about getting ahead.

How to Make Sure Every Action Takes You Towards Your Goal

1. Have a clear vision of success.

The book’s first recommendation is to have a clear vision. Naturally, you’re on this road to become a doctor. But you should clarify what that means to you: your “why.”

A clear vision helps you see if subsequent decisions are good or bad for you. It’ll help you determine if the decision you’re about to make brings you closer to (or further away from) your crystal clear goal.

Still, the book would argue that “becoming a doctor” isn’t a clear enough vision. While this depends on your phase of training, you should sharpen the focus of your goal.

For example, do you imagine yourself in academics, leading a team of residents? Or working for a busy and efficient private group, wasting no time and maximizing safe and evidence-based practices to keep the wheels of the hospital turning? Are you a mentor to a protege? To an entire department? Do you have aspirations for becoming a program director, or department chair?

The point is: you have to spell out exactly what success looks like to you. Be specific. That clear vision of success is necessary in order to take the next step towards it.

2. Engage in purposeful action that brings you closer to your goal.

Always be asking yourself if your actions and decisions are bringing you closer to your goal. For example, each patient interaction is an opportunity to make a positive impact. Whether it’s lending a compassionate ear during a difficult diagnosis or meticulously reviewing a patient’s history, every action should be driven by the desire to provide the highest level of care. The commitment to purposeful actions sets the stage for becoming not just a good physician, but a phenomenal one.

Of course, maintaining your devotion to your “why” can become difficult, especially when you have a growing pile of tasks and checkboxes to contend with. When you’re merely treading water and facing production pressure, your physical exams will be more haphazard, today’s notes will look painfully similar to yesterday’s (i.e., copy-pasted), and you can find yourself merely going through the motions. Rise above it all and do everything throughout the day with purpose.

When there’s a conscious purpose behind your thoughts and actions, you’ll make better decisions. And life is nothing more than a series of decisions.

3. Continuous learning brings you closer to your goal.

Finally, I imagine your quest for medical greatness means you want to be at the top of your game throughout your career. If that’s the case, you don’t want to be the same doctor 20 years from now that you are today, because that would mean you’d become a dinosaur! I’ve seen physicians who don’t stay at the forefront of their changing field, and they’re a hindrance to the whole team.

As an anesthesiologist, that means I’m getting called to do the procedures they never bothered to learn. It means I’m dealing with the complications of a central line placed without ultrasound. There are doctors that end up pushing propofol for colonoscopies and nothing else, simply because they didn’t keep up.

On the other side of the spectrum are the career physicians who are as adept at the newest procedure as fresh graduates. When you combine their 20 plus years of experience with the desire to stay at the forefront of advances in their field, you have a physician who is an absolute powerhouse. That’s the doctor I want to take care of me and my family members when we need surgery.

Being a lifelong learner is essential to becoming a phenomenal physician. You can’t cash it in after training and say, “Okay, I’ve made it. Time to coast.” The book’s philosophy is relevant here. Constant learning brings you closer to your goal. Therefore, throughout your practice, make a commitment to keep up with CME and take courses on your own time to improve your skill set. Read the journals in your field, familiarize yourself with landmark studies, and show a genuine interest in the ever-changing data.

Further Reading

In the realm of medicine, the journey to becoming a phenomenal physician is a perpetual quest for excellence. To achieve greatness, be sure that every decision, every interaction, and every action contributes to your “why,” the mosaic of your professional identity. This philosophy of success is as relevant for bodybuilding as it is for becoming a great doctor: build the vision of who you want to be, then take every step necessary to get there.

Looking for more (free!) tips from Blueprint tutors? Check out these other posts on the Med School blog: