You may think that having decided to study medicine your career is mapped out for you. To some extent it is – there is a very structured training pathway and a fixed number of specialties as a doctor.
But, add to the mix sub-specialties, choosing where to train and competition for places, or making decisions such as whether to take a career break, undertake some form of academic training, or work part time, and the picture is very different. And from time to time, you may even question if a career in medicine is for you.
The value of planning
Finding the right path requires careful thought and planning, and often some difficult choices along the way. How you respond to changes and opportunities which come along also determines your career direction.
The 'perfect career' may not exist and if it does, it will look different to different people. Having a career plan will not guarantee you’ll land the 'perfect career' but it will help you to formulate a framework for making the best possible attempt.
Many of us spend time planning holidays, birthday and wedding celebrations, or society activities. But how much time have you spent planning your career?
What does it involve?
Career planning is a structured process for analysing your skills and interests, researching options, formulating goals and devising strategies to achieve them. Among the issues you have to clarify:
- What are your talents and passions?
- Which career pathways or specialties are most likely to satisfy your interests?
- How can you get from your plan to a job that aligns with your planned career path?
The four stages of career planning
1. Identify what matters to you and what you have to offer
Identify your strengths and limitations and work out what makes you tick. Ask yourself what motivates and demotivates you and what you really value.
To help raise your self-awareness you can have a go at completing the Profiling for Success questionnaires to identify your preferred learning styles, personality traits, career interests and values.
You may also find it useful to seek feedback from peers, tutors and colleagues.
This important step is often overlooked, but by identifying what you like and dislike, and what’s important to you it can help you to critically evaluate your options.
2. Research you career options
Explore what career pathways are available either in or outside traditional medicine. As well as trusted online information, gain real insights by talking to people who are doing the work you are interested in. The better the information you can gather at this stage the easier it will be to make a decision about your options.
You should get the opportunity during medical school to attend specialty careers fairs, talk to doctors about their careers while on rotations and to meet with a variety of professionals at events
organised by medical student societies.
Looking ahead to Foundation Training you should make use of every opportunity to attend career planning workshops and careers fairs during the programme and use your e-portfolio for career reflections. There are also opportunities to spend time in different specialties by organising a 'taster' session.
3. Making decisions about your future
At this stage you will need to start making some choices and digging deeper. You may choose to take a structured approach to compare your options and reach a decision. Or, you may make decisions more instinctively.
If you are struggling to make a decision, it may be that you need to go back to stages one and two and gain more clarity before trying to 'match' what’s important to you and what you have to offer.
As part of your thinking it can be helpful to have a plan A, B and even C; certainly to have a contingency plan in case you don’t manage to get into your first choice option.
4. From decision-making to action
Whatever your decision, you need a plan to bring it to reality. This may be to give you the best possible chance to be successful in applying to your specialty of choice, or if you’ve decided to diversify with your medical degree, it could be to apply to different roles upon graduation. Or, it could be to take some time out after foundation school before returning to specialty training.
Some general principles apply; think ahead as much as possible and work out what you can do to be successful. This could mean:
- finding out what recruiters are looking for, evaluating yourself against the requirements, identifying your gaps in experience or skills and finding a way to bridge the gap
- ensuring your CV is up to date and in line with expectations – both in terms of what you have to offer, and how you present yourself on paper
- discovering what to expect at interview and how best to prepare for it
If, like the vast majority of medical students, you decide to go straight into Foundation Training and then onto Specialty Training in the UK you can find plenty of information about the schemes, the entry requirements and application processes on the programme dedicated websites.