Choosing your specialisation


Ask any doctor how or why they ended up in their particular specialisation and you will hear diverse answers on a broad continuum: ‘It’s what I always wanted to be’, ‘I was inspired by a consultant in the field’, ‘I was told I was good at it’ or ‘by accident’, ‘because I didn’t get a spot in my preferred training program’, ‘it was the only option available‘.

Some doctors start studying medicine with a clear career pathway in mind, others commence with no idea of what pathway to specialise in. Either position can be right or wrong and both provide positive or negative implications depending on the individual. For some doctors opportunities may be missed in their rush to specialise in a pre-defined pathway. Fit for role and lifestyle alignment might be overlooked and subsequently role dissatisfaction may emerge at a later point.

For medical students and doctors who currently have no clear idea of the right specialisation to pursue, we want to highlight that it is okay to not know! It is our experience that with practise and exposure a path will emerge in time. For some however, it is a process of elimination down to a couple of options, two to five years after graduation.

The decision to pursue a certain specialty is one of the most important career decisions you can make. The choice may feel overwhelming. There is a perceived ‘rush to know’ and to act early. However senior educators and supervisors advise that it is okay to not know and prefer junior doctors take more time and consideration before pursuing a path.

The enormous investment of time, money and effort required by a doctor to specialise should only be commenced after thorough research of the available options. There are many factors – external and internal – you should take into account when formulating your decision and we strongly advise you tune into the information they provide you, to ensure an informed decision is made.

External cues

Internal cues

It is also extremely valuable to be tuned into internal cues. Therefore during each rotation reflect on:

Finally, in a changing world of work, you need to also consider how medicine is evolving. Some parts of medicine traditionally managed by one specialty have adapted with changes in research and technology to being the domain of another specialty. How might this change further?

Remember there are many directions you can take your career – traditional paths, sub-specialties and even alternate non-clinical careers using medicine. It is important to set aside time for management of your own career and to constantly revisit where you are heading.

As consultants for the AMA careers advisory service, we see many doctors at all stages of this decision-making process, including those who are unsure which path to follow, others who enjoy their specialisation and want to investigate how to develop it further, and doctors who have concluded that their specialty is not right for them and are seeking alternate paths.

For careers advice, please book a free 15-minute career call or a coaching session on our website

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