Essential Elements of an Ideal Job

By Betty C. Tong, MD, MHS, MS  

August 18, 2020

With the new academic year fully in progress, those of you in your final year of training are undoubtedly considering life beyond residency or fellowship. In addition to the busy demands of day-to-day life, you will have the added excitement and challenges of finding your first “real” job. In broad strokes, considering the four Ps below may help you identify and determine your ideal job.

First and foremost, it is important to like what you do. Mark Twain once said, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I would challenge anyone to find a cardiothoracic surgeon who has endured the years of hard work and training solely for the glamour or perceived compensation; we do this job because it gives us a sense of purpose and because we love it.  

When considering your ideal job, also think about various practice settings, such as community-based or private practice, academic or teaching hospital, or even the Veterans Health Administration. Also, consider your clinical activities. Many of us are broadly split into adult cardiac, congenital, or general thoracic surgery. But even within these areas, you might consider whether it would be desirable or feasible to subspecialize and concentrate on a specific patient population or case mix. If you love the mitral valve more than anything else, then perhaps think twice about the job where there are several other busy mitral valve surgeons and opportunities for building your practice may be limited. 

Aside from the clinical practice itself, the ideal job should provide opportunities for your continued professional growth. When considering your professional goals, do or will you have the support and resources available to achieve these goals? Are you being compensated fairly for your work? I will say that compensation can be tricky. The numbers alone (RVUs, salary, etc.) should not drive your job satisfaction. Being “compensated fairly” does not mean being paid the most. It does, however, mean that your work and contributions are valued by your colleagues and organization.  

In my opinion, this is one of the most important features of one’s ideal job. Think about your group and partners: can you call them for help with a tough case (without feeling bad or “weak”)? When covering for you, will they care for your patients as you would do? Would you let them operate on your loved one? I am blessed with four outstanding partners who I respect immensely and trust implicitly. This enables me to maintain a healthy blend of work and home, without undue worry or guilt about either my patients or my family when I am not present for one of them.  

Perhaps equally important (if not more) than the other areas above, your personal happiness is another important element of job and life satisfaction. The ideal job is located in a place where you would like to live. Perhaps it is close to extended family or close friends or provides opportunities for your personal enrichment and growth. Think about how you like to spend your free time and what geographic location(s) would help to optimize those activities.  

If there are others in your life or home to consider, your geographic location may be equally important to them. While choosing your practice partners is important, the happiness of your family/life partner is even more so. Having a happy home situation will mitigate distractions and enable you to focus appropriately on your work and career. This will ultimately increase your effectiveness at work, and add to your job satisfaction.  
My final advice also involves a P. Recognize that no job is perfect and that it may take some work to find the ideal situation for yourself. 

Prioritize practice, partners, professional, and personal. Then, weigh your options and base your decision on the opportunity that strikes the highest common denominator of each. Understand that life circumstances will change over time and that what was once the ideal job for you may not always be that way. Check in with yourself periodically to ensure your situation still fits well with your 4 Ps, and don’t be afraid to consider opportunities that may come along. Doing so will either affirm that you are in a good place and happy or that something else is potentially more ideal, and it is worth considering a change. 


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons.

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