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Radiation Oncology Career Growth Starts with a Conversation


Radiation Oncology Career Growth tips featured by Society for Radiation Oncology Administrators, SROA

By Brenda Marie Palo

I’ve been working in radiation oncology administration since I started my career. I don’t want to disclose my age –– let’s just say I have been doing what I do for a very long time. I feel so blessed to have had insightful managers. While I may have liked some more than others, I can honestly say that I have learned from all of them –– invaluable lessons of growth, respect and leadership.

There are exceptional radiation oncology managers, those who mentor you and help you to grow. These are the managers we strive to emulate. As a mid-level manager, I, too, have a manager. While being in the middle allows me to offer perspectives of both manager and employee, I would like to focus on the employee’s perspective. I’ll freely admit that I prefer being the employee—I am service-oriented, a proverbial team player, and I feel much more comfortable in the support staff role, versus the stressful manager role.

Managers commit significant time and resources to train in an effort to get employees to stay put. One important question is: how do managers fulfill employees’ desires, encourage growth and keep them? Reflecting as an employee, I think the first step is identifying what I need to feel sustained in my career. Am I happy in my current position? Am I satisfied with my career progression? Can I grow my skills and stay satisfied in my current role? Employees need a manager that understands their values, strengths, interests and goals. A good manager is willing to act as a mentor, is attuned to what their employees want, is willing to discuss ideas to help foster career growth, and knows how to access opportunities or programs available to support them. Finally, an effective and insightful manager knows how to make their employees feel appreciated and encourages a healthy work-life balance.

Staying fulfilled in a job that you love is not difficult; let’s face it, we get back what we pour into it. At the same time, our specialty is often demanding. I work at an academic facility where the pace is constant and fast––there’s no downtime, no slow days. Hopefully, everyone working in this field finds the demanding pace fulfilling and energizing. If not, you may question your career choice, or maybe you just need to explore opportunities for career growth. Do you want more, and if you do, what is the “more” that you seek? Do you dare ask, and if you do, how do you go about asking for more?

One way is to start with a career development conversation with your manager. This is a great opportunity to share your career aspirations, and for your manager to ask questions and listen. Over the past decade, we have seen measurable shifts in how employees seek fulfillment. Gone are the days of predictable promotions and bonuses; new ways and different measurements of career satisfaction are emerging in today’s workplace. Employees want meaningful experiences, interesting work, purpose and a flexible employer that understands that work and life overlap at times (e.g., needing to work at home occasionally due to a family issue or being away during work hours but completing work after hours). Prepare in advance for your conversation by having a clear insight into your current job by honestly answering these questions:


1. What do I like most about my job? 
2. What would I like to do more of? 
3. What do I like least about my job?  
4. What do I want to do less of?  
5. Where do I see yourself in 2-5 years?

From this conversation, and with the help of your manager, you can create a plan a path for career growth. Success depends on clearly understanding your current abilities, where you want to go and what it will take to reach your goals. Knowing what you want, you can figure out if you’re looking for new responsibilities and challenges or additional fulfillment in your current position. Leveraging your talents and abilities can help you to identify areas that may provide an opening toward your goal. Ask yourself:


1. Is there something more that I could do that would make a greater contribution to my organization? 
2. Can I identify a new task that would make better use of my time?
3. What can I do that would bring value to my team?
4. Do I have any special talents that are not currently being used?

Job satisfaction is important because it helps us have a healthy attitude that permeates all areas of our life. People can sense your healthy attitude and will gravitate toward it. Does your job satisfaction show? What would help you to obtain more satisfaction from your work? Are there changes that you can make in your performance to help you achieve more satisfaction in your role? These are all great questions to explore when delving into a career conversation. Be open to honest feedback when asking these questions and set goals toward skill development, such as training or certifications that you would like to obtain. Your manager may suggest certain training courses for you and then allow you to augment your work schedule to attend classes. If training is outside your organization, your manager may be able to approve educational funding to help you reach your goals.

Having been in my job for so long, I have found ways to foster my own career growth with the help of a supportive manager who’s recognized my potential and valued my worth. A manager with this capability is an asset to any organization: the manager recognizes staff members’ potential and opts to help foster career growth rather than see employees go. Looking at business needs, both an employee and their manager can determine whether there are internal or external opportunities for growth and enhancing job satisfaction. For me, that opportunity came through working with societies outside my organization like SROA. My manager found it beneficial to our hospital organization to sign onto my membership with the society: I found growth, mentorship, new experiences, friends, resources, all of which provided me with job satisfaction, and our organization benefited from the contacts and networking that resulted from the association membership. Another example to foster growth in radiation oncology may be allowing radiation therapists to rotate as team leads to foster learning, career growth and job satisfaction.

Career growth starts with a conversation. For more on this topic, I highly recommend the Help Them Grow or Watch them Go series by Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni.

We want to hear from you!

Have you sat down with your manager to discuss career development? If so, how did this help your career? 


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