Earlier this year, intern Dr Bron Cleary reflected on her career and which training path to take. Bron has just been accepted into paediatric training, starting next year. It wasn’t an easy decision, as she was also drawn to general practice. Here are 6 lessons from Bron’s experience when choosing her medical specialty.
1. It’s normal to not know what to specialise in
At the start of the year Bron wrote: “I had hoped that at this point in the year I would have a clear idea of what area of medicine I wanted to specialise in. Alas, I have not yet had that elusive epiphany!”
Bron’s dilemma is common. Surveys of final year medical graduates shows that most still haven’t decided what specialty they want to pursue.
We haven’t discovered a way to uncover your destiny, but tools like MedQuiz may help.
2. Internships are a great way to ‘try before you buy’
Use your hospital training to experience a range of specialties – and take the opportunity to talk to the specialists you meet about their work.
“Internship has given me exposure to a range of specialties.” says Bron. “I have done a term in general medicine, orthopaedic surgery, cardiology, emergency and a relief term, which mainly consisted of night shifts.”
This experience helped Bron decide which areas interested her, and to rule others out. She says: “I enjoyed medical terms the most. General medicine was my first term and I appreciated the variety of patients and conditions. Cardiology, whilst being hectic at times, also appealed to me. Whilst I don’t feel I’ve had enough exposure to surgery this year, I don’t think that’s what I want to do.”
3. The people in your life can influence your decision
There are often other people who can sway your decision, whether it’s the inspiration of someone you know or the opinions of your family and friends. You can also be inspired (or swayed the other way) by the doctors you meet in your medical degree and training years. Bron’s interest in general practice came from her father.
She says: “Growing up with a father who is a GP, I have always had great respect for the role: knowing how hard he worked and the difference he made to many people’s lives.” General practice was on Bron’s short-list right up until she made the final decision to choose paediatrics.
Always remember to listen to your own voice first, even if it means disappointing someone who wanted you to do a particular specialty.
4. Training programs differ in length
For Bron, one appeal of general practice was the shorter journey to registration.
“The training program is also a great deal more appealing than that of some of the other specialties. Being a few years older than many in my cohort, the thought of a five to seven year training program is daunting, whereas a four year program is much more appealing,” she says.
Visit MedVersus to compare the time it takes to train for different medical specialties.
5. Consider whether you prefer niche or general medicine
While some specialties focus on very specific areas of medicine, others allow more scope. Do you want to be an expert or a generalist? Bron was drawn to specialties that provide more variety, like general practice, paediatrics and basic physicians training.
She says: “The appeal of paediatrics is similar to the appeal of general practice. It can also be very much a generalist medical specialty or you can specialise in a particular area of paediatrics. Critical care appeals to me as it is exciting and involves a lot of procedural medicine.”
6. Research careers and training programs
Information is power. The more you know about the different specialties and their training and career paths, the better equipped you’ll be to make the right decision.
Conferences and workshops are a great way to meet other doctors. You can ask them about their careers to get first-hand insights, and also make contacts that could be helpful in future. Bron also recommends speaking to people who are currently in the training program.
She says: “During our training and also recently in a teaching session at the hospital we have had presentations from representatives of various specialties which have been helpful in giving a clearer idea of the training pathways, application processes and the lifestyles involved in certain careers. The most useful sessions have been from current GP registrars as they provide first hand, current knowledge of what to expect and the pros and cons of the program. There are also numerous websites I have been consulting for information such as the RACGP, ACRRM, training providers, the NSW training program website, AGPT and GPSN.”
Check the college websites, training providers, and associations related to the specialties you’re interested in pursuing.
Don’t forget! Think about where you want to live and work
The demand for doctors differs in various locations. If your dream is to live and work in Stradbroke Island, for example, you might need to consider which specialties will realistically offer you a job there. General practice is a good career choice for the adventurous spirit who wants to live and work anywhere in Australia. There are also locum jobs around the country for other specialists interested in travel, and positions at rural hospitals like Townsville.
Visit MedVersus to compare medical specialties and training programs.