Developing Your Professional Career Plan


The key to a fulfilling career is to know what's important to you — from your mission, identity, and direction to family, fun, and finances — and then pursue that.

Fam Pract Manag. 2020 Jul-Aug;27(4):21-24.

Author disclosures: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.

Whether you are finishing your residency soon or feeling the urge to move beyond your current position, career opportunities abound for primary care doctors. But with more choices now than ever, how do you find the job that is the best fit for you and will allow you to grow personally and professionally? This article presents a five-point framework to help you identify what's important in your career — from your mission, identity, and direction to family, fun, and finances. To visualize the framework, hold your hand in front of you with your thumb up, index finger pointed, and the remaining three fingers folded back toward you. Each finger represents an aspect of your work and life worth considering.


  • Family physicians have more career choices now than ever, but finding the right job that allows them to grow both personally and professionally can be challenging.

  • A career plan helps you identify what you want and need, so you are better prepared to make choices that align with your goals.

  • Mission and identity, direction, family, fun, and finances are all important aspects to consider as you develop your career plan.


You chose family medicine for a reason. What drives you? What makes you distinct? Clarifying your personal sense of mission and identity can help you identify the populations you want to serve, the kind of work you want to do, and the types of opportunities (and organizations) you'll pursue.

For example, perhaps you are a true generalist who enjoys the variety of a broad scope of practice and working with patients over time in the contexts of both family and community. You may be drawn to prevention. You may enjoy the challenge of balancing patients' comorbidities while helping them achieve their personal and functional health goals. You may be passionate about being an advocate for patients in a health care system full of paradoxes. But above all these things, you realize that you are part of something greater than yourself.

Action items:

  • Get clear on your mission. You may find it helpful to develop a personal mission statement that you can refer back to as you're evaluating job opportunities.

  • Consider adding a goal statement to your curriculum vitae (CV) as a useful way to convey your sense of purpose to others. While you're at it, make sure your CV is up to date. This will make the application process less stressful.

  • Draft a basic cover letter that highlights not only your skills but also what's important to you. Later, when you apply for a specific position, you can tailor the cover letter to the job.



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Dr. Motley is a practicing clinician and vice chair of community medicine for Sidney Kimmel Medical College and Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. He is also director of the university's rural physician shortage area program....

Dr. McMullin is completing her residency in family medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia and will be working for the Indian Health Service in Shiprock, N.M.

Author disclosures: no relevant financial affiliations disclosed.


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2. Goren L. Ten strategies for building emotional intelligence and preventing burnout. Fam Pract Manag. 2018;25(1):11–14.

3. Krall EJ. Ten commandments of physician wellness. Clinical Med Res. 2014;12(1-2):6–9.


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