Choosing a specialty
When I started studying medicine at Warwick I remember asking my medic parent (a student mentor from the year above) what specialty he wanted to do. He replied that he had always been keen on some kind of acute or emergency medicine until he had attended a GP conference which had completely changed his mind. Asking the same question to some of the final year students, I often heard ‘Oh, I just want to pass and become a doctor, I haven’t thought about much more than that’. It certainly feels that as I have moved through the course, my focus has alternated between the immediate and distant future; working on my respiratory examination skills one week and considering life as a consultant ENT surgeon the next.
I believe the coexistence of these long and short-sighted views can both help and hinder an experience of the course. There will be inevitably some aspects of a medical education that are less enjoyable than others, and having a ‘plan A’ of the doctor that you dream of becoming can be source of motivation for persevering through the more difficult parts. If you understand that every consultant ENT surgeon has achieved that position by sitting in a similar lecture learning the Krebs cycle then it becomes a lot easier to get on with the job at hand.
However, having an inflexible choice of specialty made at an early stage of education can be limiting in several ways. While some can use singlemindedness to help drive them towards their goal, if you define success only as the achievement of gaining a place in a particular specialty training then you can potentially set yourself up for a demoralising failure rather than seeing it as an opportunity to explore other areas of medicine. Similarly, narrowing your options down so soon can reduce your enjoyment of any learning experience that is not directly related to your choice of specialty and closes you off to the opportunity to be captivated by an an aspect of medicine you hadn’t previously considered. There are such a broad range of specialties that time in medical school is best spent trying them out, not merely deciding on one.
My ‘plan A’ had been for radiology but I now feel like I am in the process of changing it. I have always enjoyed radiology teaching but this might have been more because of my experience as a radiographer. Medical school provides a lot of dissonance; largely a feeling of discomfort while acquiring new knowledge at a rapid rate. Radiology teaching was one area which I felt more comfortable in because of my background and this might have influenced my gravitation towards it as a specialty. Recently though, on our current placement block, I have found a real interest in psychiatry which has surprised me and I am now considering it very strongly as the specialty for me.
This experience has shown me the importance of keeping an open mind and the benefit of allowing yourself to be charmed by a specialty you might have not considered. While I think it is important to keep specialties in mind throughout the course, this must never be to the detriment of gaining new knowledge in unexplored areas of medicine. You just never know what might catch you attention out of the corner of your eye.