Creating a Five-Year PA Career Plan

By Jennifer Anne Hohman

Creating a five-year plan for your PA career is an empowering way to take charge of your career development. A benefit of a five-year plan is that it allows you to think strategically over the longer term. Having this plan can help you work through the challenges of everyday life, and practice with an overarching set of goals that will inspire and sustain your practice. A plan helps put you in touch with opportunities in the present that align with your goals, and sharpens insight into what makes you a happy and successful PA.

A multi-year plan creates the space to reassess and redirect your goals as they clarify through new experiences and insights. Some plan aspects may take multiple years to achieve, such as educational programs/certifications. A five-year plan can accommodate those and create a road map to their accomplishment alongside related goals. For many, just creating a plan will be beneficial for morale and self-confidence, a reminder that you can craft your career and adapt it to your needs.

Step 1: Self-Assess, Consider Options and Visions

The first step in making a five-year plan is to reflect broadly on where your medical career has taken you and really consider where you’d like to direct it into the future. PAs have such a unique range of opportunities within clinical practice as well as outside of it, which can be both inspiring and intimidating. Here are some questions and resources to help with self-assessment:

  • Where do I stand right now in my career?
  • What would be the best job/role for me?
  • What does not work well for me professionally?
  • What experience and skills do I already have?
  • What are my current skills and strengths?
  • What can I improve on?
  • What skills do I need to develop to move toward my career goals?
  • What am I passionate about in the world of medicine and patient care?
  • What roles may I be qualified for that I’ve never considered pursuing?
  • What’s one thing holding me back that I can act on right now?

And, importantly, questions for defining your long-term career goals:

  • Where would I like to be in five years? Why?
  • How do I want to change my practice? Why?

Sometimes career growth does not require a change in jobs—it’s often possible to grow in place toward your goals, and benefit from existing relationships and structures. My article on Job Crafting offers some practical ideas on how to do so. The question is, how can you move closer to your goals, whether within the structure of your current position, or outside of it?

Step 2: Defining Goals and Creating Your Plan

Next, write out both short and long-term goals you’d like to achieve within the next five years. For each goal, I suggest applying the SMART goal methodology to help translate goals into action steps:

  1. Specific: Clearly define what you want to achieve. Be precise about your goal.
  2. Measurable: Establish criteria to track your progress. Quantify your goal so that you can objectively measure your success.
  3. Achievable: Ensure that your goal is realistic and attainable.
  4. Relevant: Make sure your goal aligns with your overall objectives and is worthwhile. It should contribute to your long-term plan.
  5. Time-bound: Set a deadline for achieving your goal. This creates a sense of urgency and helps in planning.

In the following chart, I suggest defining your five-year career goals and helping yourself to design a pathway to their realization. Under Key Actions, I recommend writing down the first concrete step that you need to take to move toward that year’s goal. Afterward, sketch out a few more key actions that relate to achieving your goal. In the next column, brainstorm some resources that will help you realize your goal: your professional network, a training program, and PAs who can help with their insights about a given specialty or career field.

The Metric column is where you create accountability for that year’s goal: how will you measure your progress? Next Steps is where you build upon that year’s accomplishments and delineate the next steps in your process.

5 Year Plan Defined Goal Key Actions Resources Metric Next Steps
Year 1
Year 2
Year 3
Year 4
Year 5

If you’ve decided to change your specialty, the themes of skill development and networking are key. However, engaging in professional development that aligns with your career goals is good advice for all. This could involve pursuing training opportunities, conferences and workshops, and courses to enhance your skills. Networking can be pursued in many ways: by attending industry-related events, joining professional associations, and connecting with colleagues on platforms like LinkedIn and AAPA’s Huddle.

Step Three: Update and Adjust Plan as Needed

As you start to put your plan into effect, reflect on your career achievements and assess whether you’ve met your short-term goals. Identify any adjustments needed to stay on track. Revise and update your career plan based on your experiences, changes in the industry, and evolving personal and professional goals. Flexibility and a willingness to adjust your goals to reflect changes will help your planning stay relevant and motivating!


Jennifer Anne Hohman of PA Career Coach offers individualized career and contract negotiation services to the PA community, and can be reached at [email protected].