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Harnessing Behavioral Science to Elevate Your Career

Written by: Laura Desveaux, PhD, PT
Published on: Aug 26, 2021
This article is published in the 2021 edition of the
Women in Medicine Summit Compendium
Click here to find out more and read the other articles

By Laura Desveaux, PhD, PT

The inspiration is often palpable at professional development events. But how do you make sure you harness that inspiration and avoid the all-to-common (we’ve all been there!) knowledge-to-action gap?

These three principles from behavioral science will help ensure the Women in Medicine Summit (or your next professional development opportunity) is the inflection point in your professional journey that you were hoping it would be.

1. Leverage the science of fresh starts.

The behavioral science of “fresh starts” (Dai, et al, 2014) teaches us a lot about how to catalyze the transformation we want to achieve. And luckily, the concept is more ingrained than you might realize. Think about the traditional milestones and temporal events in your life that represent the start of a new chapter – birthdays, graduations, New Year’s Eve and even Mondays. Recognize this moment as a clean slate and leverage it to take control over the trajectory of your career.

2. Open up a new mental account for professional change.

We assign and account for resources in our life (e.g., time, money, mental energy) using categories (Thaler, 1999), and picking a label that embodies your goal will increase the salience. Next, it’s time to decide what belongs here. The strongest foundation for any chapter is one that is fundamentally connected to what matters to you – so it’s time to identify your core values (Brené Brown’s list is a great resource). Pick two to three and build intentionally around them. Be clear with yourself on how every activity and opportunity that you put into your new mental account aligns with your values and builds towards your career goals.

3. Understand how to put your plan into practice.

An intention (or even an innate skill) cannot lead to achievement if it is not put into practice. Given that all activities you undertake involve a specific underlying behavior, understanding what contributes to a behavior happening (or not) is central to the success of your plan.

There are three core conditions required in order for you to take action (Michie, et al, 2011):

  • You need to have the motivation. Between the content at the Women in Medicine Summit and the clarification of your values in Step 2, you likely have this covered. If you’re still searching for clarity, articulate the impact you’d like to have and work backwards from there.
  • You need to have the capability. Reflect on whether there are skills you need to build and set a plan to build them. Where possible, seek out training and skill-building opportunities tailored to the context in which you are looking to apply your skills (e.g., media training opportunities tailored to healthcare).
  • You need to have the opportunity. Once you have the skills you need, find every opportunity you can to apply those skills and build the “strength” of that muscle. Be clear about when, where and how you will apply them to help yourself follow through. Write it down and consider whether you need an accountability buddy to help keep you on track.

Professional development opportunities offer a new beginning. Take control to write your next chapter and elevate your career.


Laura DesveauxLaura Desveaux, PhD, PT

The Scientific Director of an applied research institute in Toronto, Canada and the Founder and Executive Director of Women Who Lead, an organization dedicated to supporting the career advancement and leadership development of women in the health sector. Her career focuses on closing the gap between current performance and what science and experience tell us is possible. She realizes this passion through her noted roles and as a career coach, where she helps scientists, clinicians and professionals identify and unlock their potential. Dr. Desveaux’s work examines what drives behaviors, how and why things work and how context influences success (and failure). She is also a Founding Partner of E2I Consulting, where she collaborates with health and social care organizations to bridge the evidence-to-practice gap by helping them apply the principles of implementation science and behavior change to their work.

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