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Climbing Up the Ladder: Advice on Achieving Mid-Career and Leadership Success

By Currents Editor posted 06-27-2018 15:21

By Jennifer A. Kim
While career advice is often geared toward the training and early job stages, the roadmap to success throughout the remainder of one’s career is often not much clearer. Here, Dr. Wendy Wright, director of the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit at Emory University and chair of the Fellow of Neurocritical Care Committee, provides insight into making the most of your mid-career, getting promoted, taking on leadership roles and becoming a Fellow of Neurocritical Care (FNCS). Even for those of us early in our careers, Dr. Wright provides excellent foresight into preparing for success long-term. (Note: This interview has been paraphrased for brevity.)

What changes in focus should a faculty member make when entering the mid-career stage?

I agree with a common philosophy that early career is a good time to say “yes” to everything. Ask anyone who has been in this field for a while and they will tell you that their career took unexpected turns, so being open to opportunities tends to pay off in the long run. Mid-career is a good time to start narrowing focus and test the power of “no.” Divest yourself of committees and projects that don’t line up with your desired trajectory. Start declining some offers that you already know don’t interest you, will be more time investment than career-implication return, or are not suited to your talents. Pass along these offers and other long-standing commitments (like work groups, local committee work, “overview”/”basic approach” lectures to students) to more junior faculty members. They need the experience and will appreciate you providing them with opportunities to build their CVs. Ideally, all this will help free up time and energy to follow a true passion or niche interest.

Mid-career is also a good time to think about setting down roots, if you haven’t done so already. Consider whether you can see yourself living in your town or working in your department for the long haul. If not, there is no need to panic and do anything rash, but start mapping a new path. It might take several years for a move to come to fruition, but you can start aligning your choices to help guide that transition. It is also a good time to think about seeking additional education or skills. Many people take advantage of mid-career financial and job security to seek degrees in business, public health, law, ethics, etc. Even if you don’t want a formal degree, seek out workshops on topics that will help you, such as education and writing.

What general timelines should faculty be targeting for promotions?

This question is very institution, department or even chair dependent. Early career, we tend not to ask about expected promotion timelines, though it is a good point at which to get clarity when considering job offers. The promotions process is an active process. Don’t assume that it will only take X number of years, and that you will accumulate the body of work needed based on your normal employment expectations. Academic institutions have their own promotions criteria, so learn them early! Keep track of the criteria you have met, and keep an eye out for the more coveted opportunities. It’s not a race or competition, but you can use other faculty members in your department as a benchmark. You should have a faculty mentor assigned, but if not (or in addition to), seek out a faculty member in your department who has successfully navigated promotion and ask for advice. For example, what does your chair consider the must-haves or desirable contributions? You may find that your chair views book chapters and medical student lectures as a waste of time but would be impressed if you served on a journal’s editorial board or spoke at another institution’s grand rounds. (P.S. Write book chapters and lecture medical students anyway, especially early career. These are great ways to build skills as a speaker and educator; they are a good way to build relationships; and we want students to have exposure to members of our field. As you move along in your career, you can seek more specialized audiences and be more selective about which chapters you write.)

What types of leadership roles are important at this stage?

From a professional development standpoint, mid-career is a good time to start seeking leadership roles that allow some measures of independence (chair/ co-chair, director roles), demonstrate increasing levels of responsibility (moving from committee member to committee chair, responsibilities that require reporting directly to top levels of administration), and offer the potential to build or develop new elements of care delivery (care pathways, service lines). Never assume that people know that you are interested in leadership roles. Declare your intentions! Sometimes it makes sense to put your name in for consideration for a position before it is even open. Keep an eye out for an unidentified need or leadership gap and you may be able to create your own leadership role.

Faculty often move during their career. At what stage(s), or under what circumstances, does changing institutions/positions make sense?

The most important thing when picking a long-term employer is to make sure your values align with the values of the institution. There are times when leaving a job makes sense. Obviously, in 2018, no one should tolerate an abusive work place. This includes being underpaid. Seriously, if you aren’t making a fair salary as a neurointensivist, find a new job. I can’t tell you what a “fair” salary is since it varies based on setting, training and experience, but you shouldn’t feel genuinely underpaid. Even if you are “OK” with undervaluing yourself, consider that you are depressing the market for others by tolerating low pay. If your job is getting in the way of your family or other important relationships, you need to either fix the underlying problems or move on. Be open to the notion that you may be part of the underlying problem, however, so that you don’t jump ship and just end up in the same problematic situation.

On that note, the grass is not always greener at another institution. Every place has weaknesses and hard-to-take members. This is where skills like negotiation and conflict resolution are essential. Common triggers for leaving a job are: failure to advance, family commitments, health issues or financial stress. If you do feel that you are off pace, in a situation with limited advancement opportunities or mismatched priorities, a change may be in order. A new opportunity might motivate your current employer to meet your needs, but beware of “threatening” to leave. You should be prepared to leave if your bluff is called. Rather, be open minded to any counter offers from your home institution.

What does it mean to have a Fellow in Neurocritical Care Society (FNCS) designation, and how does FNCS help one’s career?

Being credentialed with the honorific Fellow of the Neurocritical Care Society means that you have made exceptional contributions to the field of neurocritical care in the areas of program development, scholarship, leadership and professionalism. It’s not so much that the honor itself helps ones career, but rather many of the milestones in career advancement align with the FNCS distinction. Certainly, it is beneficial when seeking promotion to list the FNCS designation on your CV, but the honor also comes with responsibilities. It means that your colleagues expect great things from you. It means that early career members are paying attention to what you are doing and how you are presenting yourself.

What must a neurointensivist achieve to become FNCS-eligible?

The FNCS Credentialing Committee uses four scoring categories: program development, scholarship, leadership and professionalism/collaborative practice. The committee considers contributions within neurocritical care the field, but service to the Neurocritical Care Society, specifically, is required. Contributions are considered “exceptional” when they make an impact on at least the regional (but preferably the national or international) level. The committee recently updated the Process Outline and Scoring Criteria, which are now available to potential applicants on the NCS website. Potential applicants are also free to contact FNCS or committee members for advice or clarification on the process.

How can a mid-career attending transition to becoming a leader in NCC and NCS?

As far as the NCS, just ask! An important first step is serving on an NCS committee. If you have interest in a particular area, a corresponding committee is a good place to start, but be open to taking open assignments that might seem less desirable. Be willing to collaborate and cooperate on projects that need person-power. Many times, these initial steps will open up a lot of opportunities. As far as neurocritical care, the field, feel free to look around NCS. If you see members who have had successes in certain areas, ask how they got there and what resources they used. One of the many benefits of NCS is the wealth of smart, ambitious, creative members!

#NCSRoundup #LeadingInsights #CareerAdviceSeries #JenniferAKim #ResidentandFellow #June2018​​​​​​ #June2018
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