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By Mat Daniel

Choosing your future career

4 min
Young female professional in scrubs standing in corridor with clipboard

This article is written in collaboration with Mind the Bleep – a free education platform designed to help medical students as they prepare for FY1.

Have you thought about what your future career might look like? Is there a particular speciality you want to pursue? In this article, Mat Daniel talks us through some of the factors you may want to consider when it comes to choosing a career path in medicine.

Choosing a career path in medicine

Choosing your future career is an exciting time. The world is full of possibilities and opportunities. But it can also be stressful, and doctors often put themselves under enormous pressure to “get it right”.

Let me begin by asking you a question. Whatever job you end up in, how much can you influence your job satisfaction? The answer: really quite a lot.

You can be a passive person who turns up and expects their employer to spoon-feed them success and make them happy. Or you can be someone who actively manages their career in a way that allows them to work in alignment with their values and goals.

I’d encourage you to be the person who actively manages their career. This attitude will help you deal with the inevitable challenges that arise. It also means that getting your career choice “right” becomes much less important.

Yes, there are some people who know exactly what they want to do, but there are many others who don’t really know what they want to specialise in.

You may have a general idea, but in reality, you can most probably be happy in several different jobs. Unless you’re leaving medicine, whatever path you choose will most likely have fairly similar pressures, responsibilities and rewards.

Start by taking the pressure off yourself to “get it right”. Instead, get ready to work through the upcoming questions to help you decide which path to take.

What are you doing in your dream job?

Imagine that I’ve just waved a magic wand. We’re 20 years into the future and you’ve secured your dream job. We set up a video camera and record a week in your life.

Once we’re back in the here and now, we sit down on the sofa, press play and watch the recording. What did the camera see you doing?

It can be a good idea to write a list of things you imagine yourself doing, focusing on what can be seen rather than how you’re feeling.

What are your career values?

Values describe how we want to behave, and how we want to treat others. They help us to grow and develop, while also inspiring us to make our lives meaningful.

Living by our values means consciously choosing to focus on what matters to us. When the going gets tough, choosing to behave according to our values is what motivates us and keeps us going.

It’s important to remember that values are different to goals. Goals are things you wish to complete or achieve. Values are how you want to behave as a human being.

You may already be very clear on what your values are, but if you aren’t, these questions may help:

  • What are the things that are most important to you in your career?
  • When you are having a good day at work, what are you feeling?
  • If you had a brilliant job and someone approached you with another, what would it take for you to leave?

What are your values in relation to the rest of your life?

Your life values may not necessarily be the same as your career values.

However, if you end up falling into a job that doesn’t align with what matters to you in other areas of your life (for example, your family or health), then finding a good overall balance may be challenging.

What are your strengths?

It’s much easier to do a job that uses your strengths. Imagine doing something that you do well. It comes naturally, time flies and you can’t get enough.

If your strengths aren't being used, you may find yourself getting bored. It’s quite possible to learn and develop new attributes. You may become good at them over time - but it’s also possible that they’ll leave you feeling drained rather than energised.

How can those around you help you to decide?

The people you work with can be an invaluable source of data when it comes to choosing a career path. You can ask them what they think, invite suggestions and get advice from a variety of people.

Another way of asking would be to get feedback on how you are at work, and then use this to help you choose the right path for you.

For example, ask colleagues three simple questions:

  • What do I do well?
  • What should I do more of?
  • What should I do less of?

A face-to-face question from you may be effective, but sometimes an anonymous online survey or an interview by a third party can garner better results.

You also need to make sure that you are up to receiving feedback, as sometimes you might not like what you hear. Being supported by an experienced supervisor or coach is often useful to ensure that you get the most out of this process when you are opening up and seeking people’s honest views.

The mandatory 360-degree assessments required for ARCP can also be useful. However, as those are part of your summative assessment, in my experience they often end up being a tick box exercise where the goal is to pass, rather than to gain insight.

Do you have a speciality in mind?

The questions I’ve posed so far focus on knowing yourself. When choosing a career path, you’ll also need to find out what the job is like. Make a shortlist of areas you’re interested in and start your research.

Here are some suggestions for finding out what a speciality is like:

  • Read books and guides based on your speciality
  • Talk to as many people as you can across different practices, hospitals and grades
  • Join societies and groups that offer a variety of events
  • Attend careers’ fayres
  • Organise taster days and weeks
  • Read medical textbooks, journals and articles
  • Visit websites that offer information about multiple specialities
  • Look at patient organisation websites

Final thoughts

As a qualified doctor, the world is your oyster when it comes to careers. Remember to get to know yourself as well as the speciality you’re choosing to pursue.

Explore career paths as one aspect of your life, and not in isolation from the rest of who you are. Be the person who actively manages their career and focus on finding a job that brings true satisfaction. And finally – good luck!

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