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Choosing Your Direction

Out of Programme Experience | Options Outside Medicine | Writing a Good CV | Writing a Good Application Form | Interviews

In planning your medical career it is critical to think carefully and honestly about what you really want, as well as what different career paths can offer. A four - stage approach to researching and making career decisions can be useful:

  1. Increasing your self-awareness
  2. Researching the options 
  3. Making choices 
  4. Putting your plans into action


1. Increasing Your Self-awareness

Take time first of all to think about you and your experiences so far, for instance:

  • What matters to you in terms of setting, reward, and atmosphere?
  • Which patient groups do you like working with?
  • What are your key skills and what needs improvement?
  • What do you find challenging?
  • What factors other than  specialty might affect your career? (for example: geographical location)


These are the sort of questions discussed in the Medical Careers Forum workshops.

2. Researching the Options

For an explanation of what different specialties involve, visit the NHS Medical Careers site.

Look out for any career sessions available within your training and for other resources and events. For example:

  • The BMJ runs an annual fair in London in October, and some regional events.
  • The BMJ Careers site has a range of career articles and advice.

Questions you might consider:

  • How might specialties change in the future?
    Think about who you could talk to about this.
  • How might these changes affect your career choices?
  • What kind of skills are particular specialties looking for?
  • How can you demonstrate these skills?


3. Making Choices

The Open University's career online tool for doctors, Sci59 is available free via your local health library. This does not tell you what to do, but it matches your skills against those required in different specialties (59 of them), so it can make a useful starting point.

It is helpful at this stage to be critical and analytical, exploring the possible problems within a specialty, as well as the positive aspects. Think about the impact that working within a particular specialty will have on your life. Make sure that you reflect honestly on areas that challenge you, as this will help you to be realistic in your choice. At the same time, remember that you are applying for training: you need to demonstrate your potential to learn, not be an expert already.

Be wary of:

  • Pursuing a specialty because it appears glamorous
  • Letting yourself be swayed by the prejudices of others - they may have had negative experiences that do not truly represent that area of medicine
  • Dismissing career options due to team dynamics you have observed

Once you have decided on your specialty and where you would like to train, it is advisable to have a 'back-up' plan, in case you do not get your first choice. This may mean thinking more broadly about where you would be prepared to train, or applying to a second choice of specialty. You might prefer to take some time out, and reapply the following year; if you do this, be sure to use experiences in that year to strengthen your next application.

4. Putting Your Plans into Action

This stage is about how to put yourself forward for a post in the most convincing way possible. Think about how to show the recruiters the real you, not a version of you that you think they want to see. Naturally, you will have to prove that you have the skills that  they are looking for in that specialty, but making your application personal and sincere will make it stand out.

Nothing can replace careful research. Check what the Person Specification expects applicants to demonstrate, and think carefully about how you match the qualities specified. Word counts within application forms can be quite stringent so drafting and redrafting is advisable. Questions may include:

  • What experiences have you had that demonstrate the skills being asked for?
  • Thinking of one particular experience: how did you make a difference at that time?
  • What have you learned from any negative experiences during your time in medicine, and what will you do differently if you face that situation in the future?


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