Choosing a Specialty
Trying to decide what to specialise in can be confusing, especially as there are many specialties and sub-specialties. It’s important to get the right information and to make sure you are a good fit for your chosen specialty.
Factors to consider
- Is it really you? It’s easy to be influenced by someone working within a particular specialty. Their enthusiasm and commitment can be inspiring, but this does not automatically mean that it’s the ‘right’ specialty for you as well.
It’s a good sign if the more you find out about a specialty the more interested you become. If you are really interested and committed to your specialty you will be more motivated and therefore more likely to succeed. This will result in increased levels of confidence and your genuine interest will communicate itself to patients, which of course in turn results in better rapport, diagnosis and treatment. This will also carry you through those ‘bad days at the office’, when nothing seems to be going as it should.
- Skills and Aptitudes. You may be fascinated by keyhole surgery but if hand/ eye co-ordination isn’t your forte, then don’t do it! Statistically people with higher levels of self-awareness and an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses are more likely to perform well in their career.
Assess your skills and aptitudes and look at how they link to different specialties. Don’t try to fit your personal qualities, skills and aptitudes around the specialty, it should be the other way round.
If you are not sure of your skills and aptitudes, psychometric assessments such as MBTI, Morrisby and career interest inventories can help.
- Needs/values. Be honest with yourself about what you really want and value. If you know what motivates you, you will choose appropriately and be happier in your role.
If one of your needs is to have an active family life, this is possible, but look at the specialty area closely. Does it offer you that opportunity now or later? How long are you prepared to wait? Location may be a significant factor for you - if so, acknowledge this and build it into your career decisions. Think about how you’d like your work/life balance to be, and think about what environments you work best in.
If money or status are the key needs and values for you, then assess the potential and the competition. Some people feel strongly about ethical or moral issues and may not therefore be suited to a career in a particular specialty. These are all very personal choices, so be guided by your conscience.
Where to find the information?
Getting good information is key and can be found through a variety of sources which include:
- Websites: Accurate information is available through websites such as National Medical Careers, NHS Employers, MMC, BMJ and the websites of the Royal Colleges.
- Deaneries: Many Deaneries provide useful information via their recruitment sections of the website. Always look at the additional information before submitting your application.
- Clinicians: The resource which is there in front of you every day. People who are passionate about their work will be willing to tell you about it and may be the most honest source of the pros and cons. Don’t be afraid to approach a clinician directly or, if you don’t know anyone in that field, ask your Educational Supervisor to recommend someone. It is rare for someone with a genuine enquiry to be refused the opportunity, quite the opposite.
- Printed material: DVD’s, booklets and books devoted to specific specialties. However, it is advisable to check whether the publication is endorsed by the appropriate Royal College.
Competition varies between specialties and it would be naïve not to research the level of competition in your specialty and location.
- The MMC website is the best place to start. On this you can analyse the number of applications by specialty, level and Deanery. Allow some quiet time to analyse the data. Be aware that some competition tables may be two years old.
- Also look at the information from the Royal Colleges and Associations, here you may pick up information about trends. Some may predict growth areas, you may also learn which specialty are over-subscribed to and conversely which are attracting fewer applicants. There may also be information on how future demand and financial restrictions are likely to impact on certain specialities.