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Doctors at Work Podcast.

Episode #23

How to choose your future career in medicine?

Mat Daniel


Choosing your future career in medicine is both an exciting and a scary time. In this podcast, I share my thoughts about career decisions, and give some tips on what to think about and how to make those choices. Have a look also at

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:00] Mat: Welcome to Doctors at Work. My name’s Mat Daniel and this podcast is about doctors’ careers. Today I’ll be talking about how to choose your future career in medicine. This is an important topic and something that comes up whether you’re a medical student or an early career doctor, a mid career doctor or a senior doctor.
So I hope that my tips are useful.
When it comes to choosing your future career That’s quite an exciting time. There’s a world out there that’s full of possibilities and opportunities, but also it’s very stressful because doctors often put themselves under enormous pressure to try and make sure that they make the right decision. Let me begin by asking you a question.
Whatever job you end up in, how much can you influence your job satisfaction? Actually, I say the answer is really quite a lot. You can be a passive person who turns up and expects the employer to spoon feed them success and make them happy. Or you can be somebody who actively manages their career and workplace in a way that allows them to work in accordance with their values, making their own successes themselves and not relying on anybody else to make their career.
So I’d encourage you to be the person who actively makes theirs a flourishing career, no matter what. And that kind of attitude will help you deal with the inevitable challenges that come up. It also means that getting your career choice right is much less important. Because in fact, medicine may already be a second career to you.
And many doctors later in their careers search for additional roles. to enhance the pure patient face facing role. So you get out what you put in and every day that you turn up for work, you have a choice in how you behave, what you do, how you treat the people around you. And that is irrespective of the job title that you actually have.
Yes, of course, there are some people who know exactly what they want to do. Hopefully they get in because if they don’t, then accepting that might be quite difficult. But there are many others who don’t know exactly what they want to specialize in. And career indecision is probably one of the commonest reasons why doctors might be taking an F3 year.
Now you might have a general idea about what you want to do, but in reality you can most probably be happy in any one of several different jobs. I do ENT, but actually I think I would have been quite happy doing any one of a number of different specialties, surgical and outside one. So whatever path you choose it’s likely there’ll be fairly similar pressures, responsibilities and rewards.
There isn’t an easy option. They’re just different. I’m assuming that you’re listening to the podcast because you want to decide what specialty to choose. So the first thing I’d say is take the pressure off yourself to get it right. Choose to be the kind of person who actively finds ways to flourish no matter what.
And I’ve got some questions to ask yourself for the rest of the podcast. So let’s start with the first one then. So what are you doing in your dream job? Imagine that I wave a magic wand and move us 20 years into the future and you now have your dream job. We set up a video camera and record your life over a week or so.
Then we settle down on the sofa and we watch that video. What does the camera see you doing? What’s the effect of those actions? Make up a list of things that you see yourself doing in the future and focus on the things that you’re doing, things that can be seen rather than how you’re feeling. And that’s important because actually we have lots of control.
Over what we’re doing but we probably have much less control over how we’re feeling. So if you’re trying to base your career, this career decision on how you’re going to feel, I don’t think that’s particularly helpful because so many different things influence how you’re going to feel. So I would suggest focus on what you are doing.
You could also ask yourself what you want your life to be about, what you want people to say about you when you retire or at your funeral, what would you like to achieve? And asking yourself those kind of questions can be helpful if you’re trying to decide what you’re going to do. The next question to ask is about your values.
Now, values are how we want to behave now and always. And they indicate how we want to treat ourselves those near to us and the world around us. They help us grow and develop, and they help us create our present and our future. Values inspire us, motivate us, and make our lives meaningful. And living by your values means consciously choosing to focus on what matters to us.
And when the going gets tough, choosing to behave according to our values motivates us and keeps us going. Now, values are different to goals. Goals are about what you want to complete, what you want to have achieve or own. Whereas values are about how you want to behave as a human being. You might already have very clear ideas about what your values are.
But if not, there’s a few ways that you can figure them out. So you can ask yourself, what’s really important to you? What are the things that really matter? When you’re having your best every day at work, what are you feeling? If you’re having a brilliant job and somebody approached you with another job offer, what would they have to offer you for you to leave your ideal job?
There’s lots of different ways that you can look at and values also. And in fact I might do a separate podcast on that. If you’re really stuck you could look at something called via character V I A and that’s an online questionnaire. It’s free. You take some boxes and then it gives you.
A list of values in some ways. It’s a bit limiting, though, because there’s lots of different values out there. So if you’re really stuck doing a questionnaire is useful, but often it’s much more detailed and much richer to spend some time thinking about what gives you life, meaning what you want your life to be about what you pick at moments are.
So the next thing is, how does your work relate to everything else? Your health, your family relationships, your leisure time. And I think that’s important also. Work is a large proportion of our time. But it isn’t the only thing that we do. So if you end up in a job that’s at odds with what matters to you, relationships, family then finding an overall balance.
In your life might be challenging. What about your strengths? It’s much easier to do a job that uses your strengths well. Imagine doing something that you do well, something that comes naturally. Time flies when you’re doing it. You can’t get enough. Everybody else wants to go home, but you still want to keep doing it.
When you have that kind of a job, it’s easy to be satisfied. It’s easy to be happy. If you’re not using your strengths, you might find yourself a little bit bored. And equally, if you find yourself in a role. That constantly requires you to do stuff that you know good at or possibly requires you to do stuff that you’re good at but it just wears you out then that’s probably going to be quite hard work.
So there might be stuff that you can become good at, and that’s okay. But if for the rest of your career, you’re constantly doing the kind of stuff that I actually find quite challenging, even though you might be good at it. That’s probably not a recipe for career satisfaction. Of course, there will be an element of that in any job.
I guess the next question really is around how you make those decisions. You have an idea of what your peak moments are, what your life balance might look like in the future. You’ve reflected on your values and your strengths, and you know what you want your life and career to be about.
How can the people around you help you decide? And the people you work with would probably be an invaluable source of data. to help you choose a career. And you can ask people around you what they think you can invite suggestions from them. And remember to talk to a variety of different people because everybody’s going to have perhaps a preconceived idea.
But if you work with people, ask different people what they think you’re good at, or what they think your values are, or what kind of careers they would be suitable for you. Then that can be quite useful. One way that you could ask people around you, you could simply ask them, what do I do well? What should I do more of?
What should I do less of? And that’s quite a nice way of getting feedback about how you’re doing. And of course, that’s useful when it comes to your current job. But also that kind of feedback and then think, OK how does this help me make my career decision going forwards? Okay, so what do you know about a particular area that you want to go into?
So the questions that I’ve done so far really have focused on you, yourself, your values, your strengths, what you want to do, and perhaps what the people around you see. But when it comes to making career decisions, you need to have an understanding of What is it that you’re actually approaching? So we’re moving on to what you know about the area.
You have to find out what the job is like. And, some suggestions about how you might do that if you like reading this, there’s going to be lots of books and guidelines out there, websites or to most specialties will have their own websites. Often it’s useful to talk to people in those areas because, the official website, you get one picture where it’s talking to real people doing real jobs.
You might get a slightly different perspective. And in particular, if you identify the specialty that you’re interested in, I would suggest that you make sure that you go and talk to different people in different hospitals and of different grades. Because, practicing a specialty in one hospital might be very different to another hospital.
There might be some societies and groups that you can join. Career days you can organize taster days or taster weeks, and you can read up about the medical topics that apply to that area. You can also look at patient organization websites because that might give you a slightly different perspective about what the patients in that area are thinking.
It’s also worth remembering that you will be a trainee for a period of time, but you’re going to be a GP or a consultant for very much longer. So if you are an early career doctor, your immediate knowledge of a job is likely to be from the perspective of, a core trainee. A registrar, but actually that’s a limited period of time.
So I would say, yes, what’s it like to be a trainee is important. But actually you’re going to spend decades as a GP or a consultant. So I would encourage you to focus much more on the long term rather than just on what’s it like to be a trainee. A good question to ask yourself also is will you still want to do this in 20 years time?
And again that kind of links to that idea. of the fact that you’re going to be a GP or a consultant for decades. Another thing that I talked earlier about, values and what you want to do in in, in your life outside of medicine. And I think that really is quite important, particularly also when you look at the long term, because again, at the moment, you might have an idea about how your career fits in with the rest of your life, but how will your career fit in to the rest of your life for the next 20, 30 years?
Medicine is a vocation in our profession. It’s not something that you can switch off. And the reality is there’s only so much time that you can have and much as you might want to do everything. At some stage, you’ll have to prioritize time, manage and make difficult decisions. So at the moment.
You might be happy to prioritize your career. Is that still going to be the case in 20 years time? Or perhaps vice versa? Maybe at the moment you have a lot going on and you can’t really prioritize that. But perhaps in 20 years time you will have more time to spend in your career. So just thinking about, what’s going to happen over your life, with your life over the next 20 to 30 years and thinking how the career fits into that that’s useful to think about also.
The difficulty, I think, with long-term, whether that’s, long-term careers or whether it’s long-term, your own personal life, is just the fact that, the reality is that we have no idea what’s going to happen in even five years time, let alone 10, 20, 30 years time from now. So that’s quite difficult because we are making decisions about our careers and our lives with information that is, often incomplete.
And even if we get the best information at the moment, chances are that in 5, 10, 20 years time things will be different. So I think it is quite anxiety inducing. It’s the best that we have. We can only make decisions based on the information that we have at the moment.
Even though that information is incomplete and it’ll probably change. And perhaps that brings me back to my very beginning, which is the chances are that your career and your life will change. But it’s important to have the kind of attitudes to change that means that whatever life brings, then you’ll Make the best of it, you’ll be flexible and you’ll find ways that you can enjoy that.
And values are really important there. Yeah. ’cause values, values do change over time. But they are probably much more constant than maybe our careers are. If you choose your future based on what matters to you then things around you might change. But you can still fall back onto doing the kind of stuff that really matters to you and being the kind of person that you want to be.
So when it comes to being a doctor, what else comes with the job? Of course, when you’re an early career doctor, you think it’s all about patient facing aspects, but the reality is that as you get more senior in your career, a myriad of other activities might. Present also. So you can talk to the senior doctors at the moment and say, what else do they do other than see patients?
Or, maybe you might not want to see patients at all. So you might want to do something that doesn’t involve patients. And if you do want to see patient, what kinds, how much admin is there? Do you work alone? Do you work as part of a team, a multidisciplinary team? What kind of opportunities come in that specialty for education, research, management, or leadership?
What’s the work pattern like? It’s often also useful to think what might get in the way. Great careers don’t just happen. There isn’t always an obvious in an easy way. So often things challenge, often challenges appear. And that means having to go out there and having to create your own opportunities. You have to also be realistic.
If you want to do certain things. That’s fantastic. What did you need to get there? Do you have the required CV? Do you have the required extracurricular activity? What’s the competition ratios like? If you particularly want to be in a specific area, then what’s it, is it going to be challenging to get a really competitive specialty in a really competitive area?
So if the area is more important, you might be pragmatic and choose a less competitive specialty. And what’s your plan B if you don’t get your first choice, setbacks and failures, they happen all the time. And career happiness depends not so much on having it perfect all the time because none of us do.
But it depends more on how you deal with any challenges and how you deal with any setbacks. If you don’t get your first option that’s fine. You might. Want to learn from that, you might want to have a go, or you might want to move forwards in a different direction. And as I said in the beginning, the really key thing is not being wedded necessarily to one thing because there’s lots of careers out there.
But it’s been flexible enough to say, okay, what’s practically achievable? And what will I enjoy? And most of us will enjoy many different specialties. When it comes to making the decision. That’s often quite difficult and people really struggle. People might get lots of this information.
They know the values, their strengths. They’ve spoken to lots of people. They’ve got all of this information at the fingertips. They’ve done a realistic assessment of their own capabilities and competition. But often it’s then a struggle to decide. And some of the questions that you might want to ask yourself when it comes to deciding.
So the first one would be what you’ve got instinct telling you. You could start with the ideal outcome. Don’t be afraid of setbacks. Spend some time thinking what’s the worst that could happen from that career decision. And go for what’s right for you. Don’t. About to pressure from others or social media or, what people think is prestigious or not.
You could create a scoring sheet based on criteria that matter to you and rate the different choices against that score sheet. You could make a list of what you must haves are and then you could see how the different specialty stack up against you must haves. I’d say don’t rush into decision. Decide what’s important and don’t worry so much about the small stuff and remember the chances are that an awful lot of the information that you have at the moment, both about yourself and about the specialty will change.
And you’re trying to make this ideal choice. And I think lots of people really get stuck in that. And it is difficult. And some people just go with the gut instinct. Some people do a spreadsheet and really analyse everything in detail. And there’s good and bad things about that.
The people that go with gut instinct. You might say, actually, I haven’t really thought it out. The people that do detailed spreadsheet and think and think, they get lost in worries and they lose sight of the fact that, some things just sit with them and some things are just for them and they’re worrying about small details that will probably change anyway.
So I don’t, there’s not a right or a wrong way to make decision. You’ve got to, you’ve got to know what kind of a person you are. And how you can make decisions. And as I say, I think for me I’d say, don’t rush. Think with your gut and your instinct, your gut instinct.
But also spend some time, being logical and analytical and try and bring those two things together. The other thing that people sometimes get stuck with is people get stuck with giving up specialties. And that’s important also that, if you’re making a career decision, whether that’s choosing a specialty or whether that’s choosing an additional role, do you do you take on a clinical governance role or do you take on a medical education role?
Do you go down the route of management? Do you go down the route of research? But whatever you decide. there’s always going to be saying no to something else. So you might find there’s an element of loss involved because, when you choose one specialty, that means that you say no to two or three others.
And that’s normal. Now we all work for many decades and often spend more time with work colleagues and our friends and family. So careers are a huge part of our lives. And great careers need to be successful and they need to be satisfying. And the two often go hand in hand, but not always. So I’d say that choosing career is the beginning, but many things go into your career choice.
Your values, your strengths, weaknesses, areas where you’re willing to compromise. And it’s not just the broad area that you’re choosing. You’re choosing also other things like work environment, flexibility and life balance. Whatever you choose, you need to do the job well, you need to successfully transition into the new role and then deliver what’s been asked of you.
And whatever you’re choosing now, chances are you’ll be choosing again and again. So most of our careers, they’re probably not static. So time and time again, we’re making new decisions. We’re changing our job plans. We’re changing where we work or how we work. We’re changing how much we spend with patients or what else we do.
We’re changing the additional roles that we’re taking on. So be prepared to choose again and again. As your career goes on and I think that for me would be a really important thing to remember that it’s not just for this point in time, things change and you will be making career choices again and again The other kind of related concept, I think, in this idea that we change that we’re changing and choosing again and again is the idea of our career as a destiny versus the concept of career multiplicity.
And what I mean by that. And of course it’s never as binary as that, but when you talk about career destiny, there’s an assumption that there is an ideal career out there for us. It’s just a matter of choosing the right one and finding the right one and then deliver it. And that assumes there is only one career out there for each one of us.
And I’ve told you already that I think for most people I simply don’t think that’s true. All of us have multiple careers and some of you might already have had multiple careers. So when we’re talking about career multiplicity then career management is a learning journey when different options are tested, outcomes are examined.
You can see what you’ve learned from that. And the assumption here is that there are multiple possible versions of ourselves in the future. There isn’t just one destiny. There’s a myriad of different possible career options out there. And the kind of the underlying assumptions between career destiny and career multiplicity is very different.
And for me, the second one is much more relevant. There are multiple careers out there for us. We will be choosing them. And changing careers, not everything, but there’ll be bits of our careers, whether it’s our timetables, et cetera, that we’re going to be changing time and time again.
And over time you will change, our careers will change. And then there’ll be new opportunities that are going to come up. And I think that’s a really powerful position to be in to think that actually, change is happening. I’m going to be ready for change. I know what I want. And when opportunities come, I’ll be making those choices that bring me ever closer to what my ideal career would look like.
Yeah. And of course my, my ideal career today might not be the same as my ideal career in 10 years time. Maybe, this is then about, low risk strategy, experimenting and being ready for change rather than stagnating and wishing for something brilliant that actually probably doesn’t exist.
So it’s a question of going out there and choosing and creating the opportunities that inevitably come up. As a doctor exploring career, I think the world’s your oyster. Remember to get to know yourself as well as your prospective careers and opportunities. And explore careers as just one aspect of your life as a whole, not in isolation from the rest of who you are.
And I’d encourage you to be the person who actively finds ways to choose, to flourish, to create opportunities no matter what. And career happiness then is much more about what you bring to the career rather than what the career brings to you. Whatever you choose, I wish you every success.

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