Home CHEST Thought Leaders The Big Leap: The Transition From Trainee to Early-Career Faculty

The Big Leap: The Transition From Trainee to Early-Career Faculty

By: Radu Postelnicu, MD

The transition from trainee to faculty can be viewed as the last great leap in becoming the physician you had set out to be. While there was a clear path to graduation during medical training, once you start as faculty, the goals and milestones are not as obvious, and often, more complex. This is a significant transition from student to professor—from learner to teacher (though learning never really stops)—and one that comes with significantly more responsibility. In intricate patient scenarios, the medical team will look to you for guidance and leadership. All the while, you have to navigate the paths to success and achieving your own career goals.

Achieving Balance

In order to flourish both professionally and personally as early career faculty, you have to achieve balance. It is important to create a well-organized environment for yourself, to take care of your own health, and most importantly, to set boundaries with how much more you are willing to work. Early on in our careers, we often find ourselves saying "yes" to any project that is given to us. While it important to be open to a wide range of experiences and responsibilities, this will come at a cost of both professional and personal time. Often times, saying "no" is just as meaningful. This will give you the opportunity to focus and succeed on the projects you are passionate about and ones that can have a lasting impact in defining your career.

Setting Goals

Reflecting on personal and professional values and goals before making important career path choices helps develop resilience, which in turn may prevent dissatisfaction and burnout in the long term. While some people know that they want to become a leader in certain fields, more often than not, our paths are not as clearly defined. Accept that there can be uncertainty, and that this is not necessarily something that should be of significant concern as you are increasing your exposure to different areas of your specialty. You will receive advice from a wide range of sources, but in the end, you alone have to decide which goals to set and which path you will follow to achieve these.

Setting goals is essential in defining what your career will entail and how you will achieve success. One great method to achieve this is to develop 1-, 3-, and 5-year action plans. The act of making and reviewing your plans may do more good than actually having the set plan, as you are forced to review what matters most to you. Review your action plans with colleagues and mentors, and make sure to reassess your progress at regular intervals to determine whether anything needs to be changed, including the goals themselves. It is also important to remember that career decisions are not only your own, but they are often your partner's and your family's decisions as well.

Finding Mentorship

You should aim to find a colleague or mentor who will support your primary career interests and aims. While this individual can sometimes be found at your own institution, it is important to realize that there are boundless opportunities within professional societies to meet new mentors and colleagues who may share similar interests as you and who could help guide you toward your goals. It doesn't matter what academic rank you have achieved or how competent you think you are; a good mentor can help anyone.

Additionally, finding colleagues to work closely with, to "bounce ideas" off of, or to consult with difficult patient decisions is also critical. You should not feel alone in making your decisions, and seeking the opinion of trusted mentors and colleagues is in no way viewed as a weakness.

Overall, there are many new challenges and responsibilities as early career faculty, but it is the beginning of a new and exciting chapter in your growth as a physician.

Radu Postelnicu, MDAbout the Author

Radu Postelnicu, MD, is currently an early career faculty member at New York University School of Medicine. He recently completed his fellowship in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at NYU. His clinical and research interests revolve around medical education, quality improvement, sepsis, and post-intensive care syndrome.