A Junior Doctor’s guide to choosing a medical specialty

A Junior Doctor’s guide to choosing a medical specialty

Oct 21, 2020.

Reaching your foundation years is a cause for celebration – you’ve finally finished your medical undergraduate degree and you’re working as a full-time doctor, with a full-time salary!

However, one of the hardest decisions of your career is looming when you’re choosing a medical specialty you want to pursue. With over 100 specialties and subspecialties to choose from, it can be a tough choice.

If you’re one of the lucky few that is absolutely certain of which specialty you’re going to pursue, you can start to tailor your foundation year training and clinical attachments to support your career. However, for the plenty that are still unsure… the wrong decision could mean additional time or money spent to change your career path, with a risk of career dissatisfaction – which is why we want to share the top three factors that may help you come to your very important decision!

Factors to Support Your Decision


The best place to start when you’re choosing a medical specialty to embark on your career as a doctor is to assess your personality: your interests, ambitions, abilities, inabilities, skills, likes, dislikes, limitations, talents to your true passions in life.

You could consider whether you are a practical person or you prefer to take your time? Do you enjoy reading the detail and solving complex problems? Alternatively, you may thrive under pressure in busy situations instead of being in more controlled, ordered circumstances.

Most specialties require physicians to have mixed capabilities due to the very nature of working as a doctor. However, certain personalities definitely suit certain specialties. To demonstrate, if you have a love for working in an unexpected, constantly-changing, high-pressure environment you may want to consider Emergency Medicine, General Surgical Emergencies, Paediatric Emergency or Critical Care.

Why not even try an online quiz to assess your personality and suggest possible career paths?

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If you’ve got the stage of having a few specialties to choose from, the next step is to analyse each individual specialty in a SWOT analysis format – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. In addition to this, why don’t you ask yourself the below questions to help you get that one step closer to your perfect medical speciality.

When choosing a medical specialty, ask yourself:

  • What level of patient contact do I want?
  • What kind of patients do I want to treat?
  • How long is the training period?
  • How long will it take me to become a Consultant?
  • How competitive is the training selection process?
  • How stressful is the specialty?
  • Does the specialty allow for research?
  • Does the specialty offer a straight forward care procedure? Or more problem solving?

Extra Experience

The above exercises should have helped you narrow your decision down when choosing a medical specialty. However, if you’re still unsure, why don’t you simply just give yourself more time to decide and increase your exposure and experience within those specialties?

Your foundation years unfortunately, only allow you to rotate between 6-8 specialties and when there are 100 to choose from, so you may need a little extra time. That being said, you could consider doing an FY3 year?

By delaying going into training for a year or two, depending on whether you want that extra rest – allows you to not only work out which specialty will be your new career path but it will also allow you to pursue your other interests.

As a doctor, yes, you’ll have a passion for studying medicine, providing high-quality patient care and saving lives, however, it’s absolutely crucial that you prioritise a healthy work-life balance by taking time out to focus on yourself and interests you may have. Not only will this inject some excitement and variety into your life, but it’ll also help you realise your true passions and goals.

Another major advantage of taking an additional foundation year is the ability to earn some money and then use that money to go travelling! A fundamental reason of why you may not be able to decide what your career journey should be is that it’s human nature for us to get caught up in our daily lives and often, staying in one place does more harm than good.

By going abroad, stepping back and exploring the world around you, it has huge benefits! From exposure to a new culture, creating life-long memories and the opportunity to expand your social network and learn from others – will do absolute wonders for you.

To conclude, the most important factor to remember when choosing a medical specialty to suit your career ladder is – go with the specialty you love and you won’t go wrong. If you aren’t sure what you love yet, then keep trying until you find it! After all, effective leaders are made and not born! And they learn from trial and error, and not from experience.

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