Vision, Mission, and Other Career Musings

by Emily Wolfenden, MD

In medicine, we are perpetually looking forward, always planning our next moves. We are constantly asked, “what do you want to do?” which actually means “what exact job would you like to have when you are 50?” As a dutiful medical student on the interview trail-turned-dutiful resident, I have this answer DOWN. “I want to do sports medicine.”

And I usually leave it at that. People don’t generally want or ask for more information.

But, if they did, here it is: I want to do a 50/50 mix of clinical sports medicine and sports medicine research. My ultimate dream goal is to be the head of a female athlete program. I want to empower other physicians, through both my research and clinical work, to view their female athletes not as variations of male athletes (who comprise the vast majority of sports medicine research), but unique, physiologically fascinating entities.

And, in occasionally voicing this, I’ve been able to participate in female-specific sports medicine research and make connections with mentors who are influential in the field of female sports medicine.

Also, in doing so, I’ve set myself up for disappointment. Because these dream jobs, while they do exist, are few and far between. Think of how many clinicians at your university do 50/50 research. A handful? And how many in a niche field? One? What are the odds that I get that job?

What are the odds that I get a sports medicine job at an academic institution?

Lately, this has been a source of some emotional distress (I can be quite the planner).

So it was rather serendipitous, when I tuned into AMSSM’s “Women in Sports Medicine” webinar, that Dr. Giselle Aerni spoke to that exact point. Specifically, she encouraged listeners to think about their future careers not from the perspective of “What job will I have?” but rather, “what do I want from my career?”

She broke this huge question (“what do I want from my career?”) down into two points:

  1. What is my vision?
    • What do you want to see in the world? What is the impact that you want to have?
    • Example: “To be a physician advocate for female athletes.”
  2. What is my mission?
    • How do you go about achieving your vision?
    • Example: “To provide the best medical care to female athletes to help them excel at sport and get them back to activity as quickly and safely as possible while also performing research to advance the field of female sports medicine as a whole.”

In using this framework, I have been able to deviate from “what is my dream career” (likely unrealistic goal) to “what do I want out of my career” (likely realistic, fulfilling). Through that process, I have been able to find some peace within my inherently goal-oriented self.

What I truly want is to be a physician advocate for female sports medicine patients. And I could do that through a job as a primary care physician. Or a sports medicine physician in a non-academic setting. Or in an academic setting. OR through a volunteer position that has nothing to do with my job. The possibilities are (not endless, but) various.

I encourage all who struggle with similar goals and ideals (or don’t, but still think it might be nice to develop a discreet vision/mission) to take some time to complete the following exercise (courtesy of Giselle Aerni, MD):

How to develop a vision and mission:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • Which patient encounters do you leave feeling like you made a difference?
  • What gets you riled up?
  • What volunteer tasks do you love despite the extra hours?
  • Once you have that vision, what are all the ways you could get there?

Happy deep thinking.

Lots of credit to Dr. Giselle Aerni, MD and her site

Dr. Wolfenden is from Hillsboro, Wisconsin. She received her undergraduate degree in Kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin. She spent a wonderful year with AmeriCorps in Laytonville, California, teaching health classes and connecting community members with health resources, before moving to Phoenix for medical school at the University of Arizona. She completed a Masters of Public Health while at the U of A. Her medical interests include sports medicine, public health, maternal-child health, and community outreach. Outside of medicine, she loves trail running, hiking with her partner Paulo and cute pup Bodhi, and having only moderate success with new baking experiments. While on the interview trail, she fell in love with the University of Utah’s perfect mixture of academic and community medicine, friendly and supportive faculty and residents, amazing sports medicine opportunities, and unparalleled access to the outdoors!

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