Think back to before you took your degree. You
read the university prospectus and the course synopsis. But what
information would have given you a real insight into life as a
medical student or doctor in training?
If it were as easy as reading this website,
medicine wouldn’t be such a rewarding career. In order to make a
properly informed choice, you might find it helpful to meet up with
people already practising in your preferred specialties and
experience them first hand as much as possible.
While reading up on a specialist area is
always valuable, a book or website simply can’t match the insights
of a practising doctor.
The medical royal colleges don’t just provide
information, they are also an invaluable source of medical
contacts. The same applies for specialist societies and
asociations. These bodies are hotbeds of experts in all branches of
the specialty and are perfect for helping you get in touch with
Local trust clinical tutors, your university
tutor or careers advisers from your deanery or medical school may
also be able to put you in contact with consultants in your areas
of interest. The earlier you start making contact the sooner you’ll
have a fuller picture of your potential specialty choices.
Senior clinicians are busy people. Luckily,
few will have any objection to helping a colleague decide on the
right career path. With this in mind you should aim to meet a
number of specialist in your top choice areas. There’s no limit to
how many of these you should make, although obviously you’ll be
constrained by who’s available and your own schedule.
An interview will enable you to:
- Get a more current perspective of a specialty than can be
provided in books and journals.
- Give you a more tangible sense of what it’s really like to work
in that area.
- Ask relevant questions about more personal issues such as
work-life balance and shift patterns.
- Establish a contact for future reference.
As your contact is likely to have limited time
to meet with you, plan your questions carefully in advance, and
keep them as concise as possible. Leave time for unforeseen
questions which may arise as the interview progresses.
Electives, tasters and rotations
Your medical degree course and foundation
programme will have included opportunities to undertake electives
and tasters, in addition to your foundation programme rotations.
These will have enabled you to directly experience different
specialty areas. These periods enable you to understand your
hands-on experience in the context of tutored support. Make the
most you can of these, as they’re the best insight you can possibly
get into working practice in a particular field.
When it comes to making an informed choice,
nothing beats the wealth of experience gained from observing a
consultant or GP at work. You’ll discover first hand all kinds of
advantages and disadvantages – and don’t be discouraged by the
latter. Often finding out what you don’t want is the most efficient
way to hone in on what you do want to do. Equally you will need to
view any rotation or elective experience objectively. A single
rotation can’t stand in for a year or more on the job. You might
have had a particularly good or bad experience purely based on
circumstance. So factor this into any decision you might make.