How to choose your career path

Every medical student entering their final year is quick to realise, or to be told, that they are increasingly expected to have already chosen a career path. This presents many medical students (including myself) with a huge dilemma: which specialty to choose for the rest of their working life.

Which specialty?

I was fortunate enough to know from a young age that I wanted to become a doctor, although I had no preconceived ideas about my choice of specialty. It followed that I knew I ought to choose scientific A-level subjects such as biology and chemistry, as they would be the most useful in my future career. Once I had gained my place at medical school, I knew that I would study every human system in turn without having to choose between them. As medical students, we were not given many opportunities to choose subject modules at university in the way that students in most other disciplines were.

We simply sat examinations – both clinical and written – in every module in turn. I had hoped that, during medical school, one clinical attachment would particularly enthuse me and stand out enough for me to want to pursue it as a career. Unfortunately, I enjoyed everything, and when I graduated I was still debating the positives and negatives of a surgical versus a medical career pathway.

I am therefore extremely grateful to my mentor, who saw that I had a passion for teaching younger medical students and knew that I had thoroughly enjoyed my research project during my intercalated BSc degree. My mentor recommended that I apply to the Academic Foundation Programme (AFP) during my penultimate year at medical school. The AFP provides foundation year 2 (FY2) doctors with the opportunity to spend 4 months working full time alongside academic physicians. The programme provides a chance to develop research, teaching, leadership and management skills, in addition to the current basic competencies outlined in the curriculum.

Exploring my options

During medical school, there were times when I wanted to work in the entire spectrum of clinical specialties; I have wanted to become a surgeon, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, a paediatrician, as well as a general physician. With each step along my medical career thus far, the clinicians I have met have influenced me with their enthusiasm towards their specialty.

Having thoroughly enjoyed my obstetrics and gynaecology placement in my fifth year, I was inspired to organise an elective in a tertiary women and children’s hospital in Vancouver, Canada. I was fortunate to observe and work with a dedicated team of obstetricians who care for high-risk pregnancies in western Canada, and I left with a feeling that I could pursue a career in that field in the UK.

Looking ahead

This summer, I launched my medical career alongside a multitude of new graduates. I am very much looking forward to my academic post in medical education during my FY2, and I hope that the upcoming 2 years of rotations across various specialties will help me to select my final choice of specialty; a specialty that will offer me job satisfaction and allow me to contribute to the development of the field, and that will become my lifelong career.

 

Dr Olivia Raglan