Whether you’re a medical student or a foundation trainee, the prospect of divorcing yourself from a world you’ve (heavily) invested in is a huge one.
In order to be sure of making the right decision in the first place, Year 11 and 12 students spend time finding and completing work experience to test their assumptions about becoming a doctor. Once at medical school, the question of which specialty they see themselves in begins to loom. Then in Foundation training, the pressure is really on to decide which of the 60+ specialties is the right one.
So, after all this intense decision-making in the direction of Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, what should you do if you begin to think, as a student or as a trainee, that it might not be for you?
Know yourself, know your reasons for leaving
Be clear on the specific reasons for leaving, is it stress, working hours, the pull of
another profession? If you’re finding it hard to specify what your reasons are, perhaps try writing a reflective journal including the highs and lows of each day. Write down questions that occur to you about your uncertainties. Try the reflective exercises in this resource on Jobs.ac.uk: Career Change Toolkit (this will be more helpful to trainees).
Talk to someone
- in the profession – a supportive tutor, a friendly peer in the year above (at medical school or in Foundation training) or a more senior doctor. Their insights might help you establish what it is you’re unsure about, and what you need to do to confirm or allay your fears. This is all about selecting the right person, if you feel someone might frown upon your thinking then they may not be the best counsellor.
- in your family – this is a difficult one. Often the biggest investors in our futures are our families, especially parents or guardians. This may put you under extra pressure if they’re following your studies/career excitedly. However if you have really thought about your options and are certain about leaving medicine then try to be brave and talk with them; show them you’ve researched your options and explain your reasons for moving on.
- neutral – speaking with a careers consultant will bring you an impartial, neutral space to house your discussions. Careers professionals are trained in helping people establish what’s important to them and making decisions that are right for them as an individual. Check your university’s careers service if you’re studying or check the services from your Local Education and Training Board (LETB) if you’re an F1/2.
Test your reasons for leaving
If you are interested in another profession, then could you arrange to do some work shadowing? If you’re concerned with the idea of taking exams until you’re 30+ then (as above) talk to people further down the line than you in different specialties;
find out how onerous it is and how they cope with it.
Research your options
If you’re an F1/F2, firstly remember to explore specialties that might minimise or even avoid the areas of medicine you aren’t enjoying (for example consider public health if the clinical work isn’t for you). If you’re not already familiar with them, visit the NHS Medical Careers specialty pages.
Beyond that, being trained medically is a huge asset to a number of jobs. The skills and knowledge lend themselves to a wide variety of roles: medical journalism, publishing, medical law, NHS management to name a few. Additionally, think beyond the medical sphere; management consultancy, civil service etc.
Resources, career ideas and case studies
NHS Medical Careers – Alternative career options for doctors. Great list of options with descriptions.
BMJ Careers – Moving on from Clinical Practice. Article about why people leave medicine and a diverse set of case studies of doctors who have left practice.
Medical Success – Alternative medical careers. Information on medical careers beyond the hospital and GP settings.
Medical Success – When can I leave medicine? An interesting case study about an F1 trainee who embarked on a new career path.
Careers Tagged – Options and Career Choice. Resources on choosing careers, employers, and options with your degree.
Vicki Tipton, Careers Consultant, Careers & Enterprise Centre, Queen Mary University of London