Which is the right specialty for me?
It's very common for medical students to focus on one specialty or feel they have to. Medicine offers a huge range of potential careers and it's very likely that there is more than one specialty that will be satisfying and rewarding.
It's a really good idea to be imaginative in researching lots of options and take the chance to talk to people pursuing specialties of potential interest to you.
Are there opportunities for me if I don't want to pursue a career in medicine?
The short answer is 'yes'. A doctor's skills in problem solving, organising, communicating and empathy are valued everywhere. Doctors also tend to be very hard working and motivated as well as resilient. Again, these are qualities welcomed everywhere.
The most popular alternatives are health consultancy, publishing, journalism, law and management.
I have no idea what I want to do with my medical career. Help!
The first thing here is to realise that this is far more common than you may realise. Most doctors go through periods of uncertainty and doubt about their career path. It's also really important to take the pressure off yourself, as you risk making yourself anxious to the point where you can't make decisions.
If you can't decide what to do, make sure you do something – all experience is good experience and it is always possible, with some luck and a bit of hard work, to change paths later.
Donald Lush is a careers consultant at King's College London, supporting PhD and medical students. Donald has worked in education for most of his professional life, specialising in careers advice and student support in several colleges and universities and has worked on European projects to gain insight into higher education in other countries.
It's really important to take the pressure off yourself, as you risk making yourself anxious to the point where you can't make decisions.
I've heard that a PhD is becoming a prerequisite for some specialties (respiratory, neuro, etc). However, I do not like the idea of dedicating three years of my early medical career to research. What should I do?
Basically what this question is highlighting is that certain specialties are becoming more and more competitive. Although, in general, a PhD is not a written requirement, yes, within some specialties, especially if you only want to work in specific trusts or areas of the country, it could be expected.
You can usually find general consultant person specifications for the specialty you're interested in on the associated medical college website. Your PhD doesn't have to be at the start of the your training – you can take an Out of Programme (OOP) at most stages of training and many doctors choose to focus on research later on, say between ST5 and ST7. Often this timing can be dictated as to when you find funding and/or a topic you're interested in.
PhDs don't only show research capabilities; they allow doctors to take up positions within academic institutions more easily, so if you plan on working for a large teaching hospital you will tend to find a PhD is a requirement. Trusts do differ, however. General district hospitals may be more interested in you proving your leadership abilities, so a qualification, or wealth of experience in management might be more desirable.
The best way to find out if a PhD is 'required' in the specialty or trust you're interested in is to talk to current managers and consultants – the people who are currently hiring new consultants for their teams – and be sure to ask about what future trends they see developing.
Talk to current managers and consultants and be sure to ask about what future trends they see developing.
How is the changing medical training programme going to affect medical students in the near future?
This is a hard question to answer, simply because we don't know yet exactly what those changes will be. At this stage, it seems pretty certain that the two-year foundation programme will continue to run. What happens after that is still being discussed by the colleges (who set curriculum), the GMC and health education organisations across the UK.
The Joint Royal Colleges of Physicians Training Board has some information about the current status of what's happening in terms of medical specialties, and surgery is running a pilot run-through training scheme this year. Other colleges have their specific view, however this is often hard to find on their websites, so I'd suggest contacting them if you have questions.
What I can say is that the fundamentals of being a doctor, in terms of your clinical practice and the skills you need to develop alongside this (such as research, teaching and leadership), will not change. Whatever the new pathway looks like, you'll still have to prove these values and competencies to progress your medical careers.
Katie Dallison is currently the Imperial College medical careers consultant and works with the Cambridge Professional Development Unit supporting trainee doctors. In the past she ran the careers service at St Georges, worked with UCL students and more recently, worked with all levels of students and doctors at the British Medical Association in relation to their career and professional development.
I'm not sure if I want a career in clinical practice. Do I have any other options now that I've come this far?
As well as providing advice and guidance on medical career choices and progression, I see students on a one-to-one basis when they decide that either clinical practice is not for them, or becoming a doctor is no longer their first choice. There may also be times when a student can no longer continue with a medical degree for a variety of reasons.
There can be a lot of emotions around this – disappointment, anger, fear, the feeling that they have 'failed' themselves and others – but most of all, a lack of awareness of what options are available and how valuable a medical degree is in a variety of settings.
It's perfectly OK to want to do something different with your medical degree or explore alternatives to clinical practice. You're not alone in this and there are many interesting, fulfilling and positive alternatives. Your medical degree (plus the intercalated degree that many students do) is valued by employers in lots of sectors; many graduate positions focus much more on a required skill set than a specific degree, or ask for a scientific or analytical discipline.
A self-audit can help you make connections with other types of work, and the NHS Health Careers website has useful information about alternative roles for doctors and career options for medical students.
It's also a good idea to make an appointment with the careers advisory service at your university. We're there to support you, and the advice we give is confidential.
Susan Bird is a careers consultant at the University of Edinburgh, working with undergraduate and postgraduate students across the College of Science & Engineering and the College of Medicine & Veterinary Science. She advises students at each year of their medical degree.
Do you have a question relating to your professional development or future career? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave your question in the comments below, and we'll do our best to tackle it in the next issue of Notes.