Choosing a Medical Specialty: A Huge Decision Awaits You
Entering medical school is not an easy task; a long and arduous journey full of challenges and hurdles is what has finally led you here. Whether it was your own heartfelt passion to be a doctor or it was your parents’ longstanding wish, you have worked tirelessly just to be here. Countless were the days when you just couldn’t do it anymore, when you felt yourself crumbling under the intense pressure. But you got through all of it; you made it to medical school just to realize that the suffering isn’t over yet; that much bigger and harder challenges are waiting for you.
In addition to the extremely rigorous coursework that needs to be tackled every semester, there’s this new nagging worry added to your plate: your prospects as a doctor after you graduate, and comes with it that ominous question ‘What kind of doctor are you going to be?’ ‘What are you going to specialize in?’ Even if you don’t give it much thought yourself, people just don’t stop asking you, right?
I came upon this blog on the internet in which a final year medical student and a top scorer of USMLE shared his feelings on how he was so close to realizing his dream of becoming a doctor but the uncertainties about his future specialty were making him doubt his decision of entering this field in the first place. While his blog touched upon many other flaws in the healthcare system in general, what influenced me the most was the state of indecision that so many of us find ourselves in when it comes to choosing a specialty.
Building a career in medicine is not like other fields where you can separate work from your social and domestic life. When you pick up a specialty, you devote yourself to it for the rest of your life and for that matter you need it to love it as such. Not being able to pick the right specialty will waste money and resources and worst of all, it will make a long journey even longer. You don’t just get to move around different specialties to get a feel for each of it. Years of training go wasted when you switch specialties.
Choosing a specialty is already a tough decision and the frustration that is part and parcel of a doctor’s life just makes it even more gruesome. An overly exhausting rotation can ruin your impression of a particular specialty although it could be exactly the one you would excel in. The problem is that we are not told what to look for when deciding a specialty for ourselves. We are just shown around a specialty for a brief clerkship period during which no one tries to give practical advice regarding its prospects as a career.
Medical students have so much on their schedules already that they have little room to look around and observe how different specialties work. They are so busy learning the material and getting through modules and semesters that they never truly appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of different fields of medicine. And we cannot expect this to get better, can we?
We shall always have that gigantic amount of syllabus that needs to be covered every semester that cannot be made shorter because we need a certain amount of knowledge to fully ‘function’ as doctors. But brief individualized guidance sessions can be easily included in our schedules if anyone just realizes the gravity of this issue.
Why is it that there is little facilitation if any, in terms of career counseling in our education system? Why are we expected to sort this out on our own? And even more ironically, how are we supposed to showcase our interest in a specialty by doing research, internships and observerships in specifically that field when we are not even sure what we are going to pick as a specialty? Are we allowed to say that a bit too much is being expected of us?
And by the way, the blog that I mentioned earlier came from a US based medical student and if the situation like this exists in United States, what do you expect from a developing country like Pakistan where the trend of career counseling is still its infancy and where the healthcare system infrastructure is obviously a lot worse than that of the developed countries like US?
No amount of counseling can actually make the choice of specialty for us but it can broaden our perspective, it can give us direction and it can help us make informed decisions. Our schools should not just turn us into doctors, it should provide us with all the guidance for our future, and it should ensure that we are able to find our niche in the vast field of medicine. Otherwise, we would have too many doctors dealing with the regret of their wrong choices and fewer doctors to deal with the patients.
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