Nine tips for helping you decide on your medical specialty. Variety is the spice of life right? Mixing it up and trying on different shoes to see what fits keeps things fresh and exciting. But there comes a time when you need to make a decision about your future. Have you reached the point where you have to choose a medical specialty? If you’re still reading, the answer is probably yes. It’s a difficult decision. How do you make this important choice? Feel reassured it’s a choice thousands of medical graduates have had to make. What follows is a list containing some exercises to help you with your soul searching. 1. What makes you tick? Medquiz is a good starting point. This quiz helps you match your personality traits and interests with different specialties. Finding this out now is a great way to play to your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses. Apart from your quiz results, factor in things such as your likes and dislikes, your abilities or aptitudes and also, your limitations. Be 100% honest with yourself. Make sure they match up with your chosen medical specialty. For example, if you function best during the day, an ER specialty may not be the best choice. You might get used to the hours but fundamentally, if you’re a day person … you’re a day person! Perhaps general practice is a better option to consider. 2. Seek out the professionals During your uni and training days, you would have encountered countless doctors working hard in their chosen field. Did any stand out? Why? What was inspiring about them? If you still have access to them, ask them for advice. Why did they chose their specialty? Do they have any regrets and if so, why? Their advice can be invaluable in providing you with insights. While you’ve got them, ask them what they think about all the specialties you might be considering. Just a quick list of pros and cons. They might just throw you a curve ball, offering some inside information that can either help you make, or un-make, up your mind. 3. Reflect on your medical studies A study published in the MJA in 2002 found that about three-quarters of medical graduates chose their specialty based on their “appraisal of own skills and aptitudes” and “intellectual content of the specialty”. Studying medicine is a long and challenging road. Which bits were you good at? The most rewarding? The most interesting? The most boring? Why? Sometimes it’s as simple as which rotation or subject felt ‘right’ to you. These answers will help direct you towards the right specialty. Another approach is to imagine your Top 5 Hit List of the past five years. Pick your top five moments over that time frame, whether at school or in your personal or professional life. Write them down. Now dissect each moment. What skills did you demonstrate? What processes did you follow to achieve it? How did you feel when you succeeded? Use your answers to compare them with the skills needed in your specialty choices. Do they align? 4. Where do you see yourself living and practicing? Where do you want to practice? In a big teaching hospital? Or in an under-served community? Do you have a passion for Indigenous health? Are you happy to focus on one type of medicine (e.g. anaesthetics) or one type of patient (e.g. paediatrics) or do you want a ‘bit of everything’ (e.g. general practice)? Would the country life suit you or do you like the city lights? Answering all of these questions will guide you to the type of specialty you should choose. 5. How will your specialty choice affect your lifestyle and family? How important is a work-life-family balance to you? Are you in a relationship or are you single? Do you have or are you planning to have kids? Do you want to work 9 to 5 (or thereabouts) or do you thrive on the challenge of longer, unpredictable hours? Each specialty has its own special demands when it comes to working hours. You need to consider how they will impact on your personal circumstances. More than half of medical graduates choosing a specialty are influenced by the flexibility of working arrangements and hours of work, according to the study published in MJA. 6. Survey your family and friends Seek insights from a family member or close friend. You need someone who knows you well and is honest. Ask: What are my greatest assets or strengths? What are my greatest challenges (personality-wise or otherwise)? What kind of working style do I have (i.e. best under pressure or need time to think)? What do you think is important to me? If you could choice a medical specialty for me, what would it be and why? Their answers may be really beneficial in helping you shape your medical career. 7. Play the imaginary game Narrow down your specialty choices to two or three. Then play the imaginary game: use your dramatic skills to imagine yourself in each role. Channel your inner DeNiro and really imagine yourself there. Consider these things: What is your day-to-day life like? What types of patients do you see? What types of cases do you encounter? Do you have research opportunities? Is that important to you? What hours are you working? Now your drama skills are all warmed up, try another game: write down your top three specialty choices and put them in a cap. Pick one out, read it and immediately note how you feel. Excited? Disappointed? Upset? That gut emotion could serve you well in making your decision. 8. What type of work style do you have? Work culture is an important factor to consider. The study reported in MJA found that 72% of medical graduates were influenced by work culture. Do you like a fast-paced environment or one where you can take your time to ponder a case? Do you prefer complex cases requiring diagnoses or making quick-fire decisions to meet immediate needs? Do you enjoy developing long-term relationships with your patients? Your med school years and hospital rotations would have given you a good taste of many of these things. Which one suited your working style best? 9. Write your own eulogy A bit out of the box but try it. Write down what you want people to say about you when you’re no longer here. What do you want to be remembered for? What would you have wanted to achieve? Be honest but be extravagant at the same time. It helps you work out what’s really important to you. Apply this when considering your medical specialty. Which one will give you the best chance of achieving your life dreams? All of these tips and exercises involve soul-searching. If you followed some or all of these suggestions, you’ve hopefully got some important answers about yourself. Now get cracking on making that medical specialty decision.