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How to approach the medical student years

Medical school is a busy time. Significant contact hours and study, often combined with part-time work and an active social life, seem to leave little time for career concerns. However, just a small amount of time spent considering your future career at various stages throughout medical school can save quite a bit of heartache in the long run. Far too many doctors find themselves in their second or third postgraduate year ready to move on from residency, but either confused about which vocational training pathway is right for them, or with a CV that does not advantage them in the application process. Some simple steps as a medical student can help you to begin deciding on a training pathway that suits you, and to be a very attractive candidate when applying in the future.

Independent reading – There is no substitute for some independent research to find objective information and do some “mythbusting” about your future career.

Career awareness – There is a misconception among medical students that finding their career pathway or specialty of choice is a passive process, which simply “happens” with time. This may very occasionally be the case. However, actively seeking information about specialties, and evaluating your experiences with this information in mind, is far more likely to lead to good decision-making and a satisfying career in the future.

Pre-clinical years –This is a particularly good opportunity to think about the intellectual (or basic science) component of various specialties, and compare these with your own interests and/or strengths. For example, if you love anatomy, radiology or surgery may be for you. If you are more interested in physiology, a career as an anaesthetist, intensivist, or respiratory physician might be more suitable. Of course this is only a component of your final decision, but an important one nevertheless.

Clinical years –This is a time when students often have their first prolonged exposure to doctors in the workplace. It is a chance to speak to registrars and consultants in various specialty areas and to ask questions (and make some contacts in the process) that may assist you in your future career choices.

As you can see these are very simple steps that are not very time-consuming, but can make a big difference down the track. Even in the short-term, career awareness will help you to seek good research projects and medical electives (see below). The very demanding early postgraduate years are not the best time to be considering your career options from scratch.

Research – The student years are an excellent time to gain some experience in research (e.g laboratory, clinical, epidemiological), which will both better equip you in the newish world of evidence-based medicine, and will appeal greatly to future employers on your CV.

Several medical schools now include a Bachelor of Medical Science in their optional or compulsory curriculum, which is the ideal opportunity to get a feel for research and beef up your CV in an area relevant to your potential future specialty. There are many other options for independently organising research as a medical student, e.g

University of Sydney Summer Research Scholarships http://www.medfac.usyd.edu.au/research/srs/index.php

Bio21 Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP)
http://www.bio21.com.au/urop.asp

Cancer Council of Victoria Summer Vacation Studentships
http://www.cancervic.org.au/about-our-research/our-research- program/biomedical_research/apply_for_funding/research_sum_vacation_studentships

National Heart Foundation Summer Scholarships
http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/Summer_Scholarships.htm

Contact your medical school for more information about research opportunities in your State.

Having your research presented at national/international meetings, or published in reputable journals is really valuable when it comes to applying for specialty programs.

Medical electives – Electives are a good time to further explore an area that you think might interest you as a career (and often to enjoy some overseas travel and tourism in the process). Some specialties such as radiation oncology or ophthalmology are rarely offered as rotations in the early postgraduate years, and electives may provide one of the few opportunities to see what these jobs are really like.

Part-time work – Seeking part-time work in areas related to medicine may help you to gain skills that are useful in the early postgraduate years, and to expose you to potential career pathways. You would be amazed at how often contacts made in these early years will come in handy in the future. Possible jobs include:

Pathology collector
Medical receptionist/ward clerk
Hospital orderly
Theatre technician

Often the pay for these jobs also compares favourably with other part-time work.

This article was authored by Jonathan Tomaszewski and Cosmin Florescu and originally appeared on the MyMedicalCareer website. Republished with permission and thanks.