We asked three doctors to describe their journey since internship. Their stories reveal how difficult it can be to decide on a specialty, and six important lessons they learned along the way.
1. It’s normal to not know what to specialise in
This year Dr Bron Cleary started her first year as a paediatric registrar, but as an intern she was tossing up between paediatrics, physician training and general practice. During her intern year, she told us: “I had hoped that at this point in the year I would have a clear idea of what area of medicine I wanted to specialise in. Alas, I have not yet had that elusive epiphany!”
Bron’s dilemma is common. Surveys of final year medical graduates shows that most still haven’t decided what specialty they want to pursue.
2. Hands on experience is a great way to ‘try before you buy’
Use your hospital training to experience a range of specialties – and take the opportunity to talk to the specialists you meet about their work.
GP registrar Dr Claire Walter believes her rural placements as a student were crucial in helping her decision-making.
“As a medical student I experienced over 18 months in rural areas in both hospital and general practice placements. Then as an intern and junior house officer I experienced placements in rural hospitals and a 5-week GP placement.
“I felt these were great opportunities to learn more practical skills than some of my colleagues in bigger centres who stood at the back of ward rounds, trying to take notes and who rarely talked to or examined patients”.
3. People in your life can influence your decision
There are often other people who can sway your decision, whether it’s the inspiration of someone you know or the opinions of your family and friends. You can also be inspired (or swayed the other way) by the doctors you meet in your medical degree and training years.
Registrar Dr Barbara Bradshaw was inspired by the GP she saw as a young adult.
“She was my GP through my high school years and through university years and beyond and when she is in the room with you there is nobody before you and nobody after you, she is entirely present.
“She is someone who I want to be like. She won Physician of the Year Award in 2017 in Canada which is well earned, she is amazing”.
4. Training programs differ in length
For Bron, one appeal of general practice was the shorter journey to registration.
“The training program is a great deal more appealing than that of some of the other specialties. Being a few years older than many in my cohort, the thought of a five to seven year training program is daunting, whereas a four year program is much more appealing,” she says.
Visit MedVersus to compare the time it takes to train for different medical specialties.
5. Consider whether you prefer niche or general medicine
While some specialties focus on very specific areas of medicine, others allow more scope. Do you want to be an expert or a generalist? Claire was drawn to general practice because it allowed her to address rural health inequities in a more generalist sense.
“I have always believed in people living in rural areas having the same rights as their city cousins to access safe and skilled health care, maternity and surgical services. The best way I can help address these rural health inequities is to gain skills that will enable me to be a part of a team, delivering these services, in a rural area.
“I spent a lot of time in postgraduate years 1-5 getting more experience in areas of medicine that I found interesting, including two years as an emergency principal house officer, completed a Diploma of Child Health and completed a year of advanced skills training in anaesthetics”.
6. Research careers and training programs
Information is power. The more you know about the different specialties and their training and career paths, the better equipped you’ll be to make the right decision.
Conferences and workshops are a great way to meet other doctors. You can ask them about their careers to get first-hand insights, and also make useful contacts. Bron also recommends speaking to people who are currently in the training program.
She says: “During teaching session at the hospital, we have had presentations from representatives of various specialties which have been helpful in giving a clearer idea of the training pathways, application processes and the lifestyles involved in certain careers.
“The most useful sessions have been from current GP registrars as they provide first hand, current knowledge of what to expect and the pros and cons of the program. There are also numerous websites I have been consulting for information such as the RACGP, ACRRM, training providers, the NSW training program website, AGPT and GPSN.”
Check the college websites, training providers, and associations related to the specialties you’re interested in pursuing.
Visit MedVersus to compare medical specialties and training programs.