Choosing a career path is one of the hardest (non-clinical) decisions many doctors will face in their professional lives. With almost 100 specialties and sub-specialties available, settling on any one career can seem pretty daunting, particularly as in the majority of cases the choice will set a path you’re likely to be on for the next 30+ years. But, with only a very small range of these specialties and almost none of the sub-specialties available to undertake as rotations during any one foundation programme, finding out what actually working in different specialties is like can be difficult. It’s likely you’ll have at least identified an area you’re kind of/maybe interested in before starting the foundation programme but, to use a total cliché, you wouldn't buy a car without taking it for a test drive, right?
There is good evidence to show that any experience, even if only brief, can be very influential on career choice and this is why all deaneries offer new doctors to undertake a ‘taster week’ at some point during the Foundation Programme. This is usually from 2-5 days, taken as study leave, in a specialty of the doctor’s choosing which they haven’t and won’t work during their foundation programme. Most hospitals will allow doctors to do this at an external hospital or organisation if the desired specialty isn't available locally. Tasters are often organised by the trainee but deaneries are encouraged to provide a list or register of structured taster programmes to its trainees. A timetable split into half-day activities, including time for 1:1 discussion with both consultants and trainees, should be provided or agreed with a supervisor, which gives the doctor as broad an experience of the roles, responsibilities, highlights, challenges and lifestyle of the specialty as possible. This should then give the doctor plenty of food for thought and provide an opportunity for (you guessed it) reflection to confirm or exclude that specialty as a career choice and identify (if the former) what steps they need to take to get there. At the end of the experience the doctor should fill in a feedback form and formally reflect in their portfolio.
Taster weeks aren't limited to particular specialties and sub-specialties either; there are plenty of more over-arching opportunities such as experiencing leadership and management roles or getting involved in academia, research or medical education. As long as you can identify and describe what you’ll aim to learn or understand from the experience, almost any taster is possible.
So, how do you go about it? Each deanery should have a policy relating to taster weeks, or have an responsible administrator who can provide advice. Talking to your educational supervisor can also be really useful. Considering early on in FY1 which area or specialty you want to explore is important; time runs out scarily quickly and taking time out of rotations needs careful planning and co-ordination to make sure there is enough cover for your day job. You may already know or have identified an appropriate supervisor who will facilitate the experience but if not, your supervisor or administrator will almost certainly be able to point you in the right direction.
You’ll never get to experience every possible career path before starting out on one; the specialty or sub-specialty you eventually work in may not even exist yet. But getting an idea of what you’ll definitely consider, or definitely won’t, will give you a better chance of identifying something that will suit you personally and professionally, and, particularly in the more competitive and run-though specialties will give you another example of commitment to specialty. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box or look at something really niche – it may give you a taste for something unexpected that you’ll love for life.
Because of the snail's pace that education has developed at, most of us don't really know how to study because we've been told lectures and reading thousands of pages is the best way to go, and no one really wants to do that all day.
That's not the only way to study. My first year of medical school... You know when you start the year so committed, then eventually you skip lectures once or twice... then you just binge on skipping? Kinda like breaking a diet "Two weeks in: oh I'll just have a bite of your mac n' cheese... oh is that cake? and doritos? and french fries? Give me all of it all at once." Anyways, when that happened in first year I started panicking after a while; but after studying with friends who had attended lectures, I found they were almost as clueless as I was.
I'm not trying to say lectures are useless... What my fellow first years and I just didn't know was how to use the resources we had– whether we were keen beans or lazy pants, or somewhere in between. I still struggle with study habits, but I've formed some theories since and I'm going to share these with you.
While reading should not be the entire basis of your studying, it is the best place to start. Best to start with the most basic and detailed sources (ex.Tortora if it's a topic I'm new to, then Kumar and Clark, and Davidson's are where I usually start, but there are tons of good ones out there!). I do not feel the need to read every section of a chapter, it's up to the reader's discretion to decide what to read based on objectives.
If you do not have time for detailed reading, there are some wonderful simplified books that will give you enough to get through exams (ICT and crash course do some great ones!). I start with this if exams are a month or less away.
Later, it's good to go through books that provide a summarized overview of things, to make sure you've covered all bases (ex. Flesh and Bones, the 'Rapid ______" series, oxford clinical handbook, etc.). These are also good if you have one very specific question about a subject.
After all that reading, you want the most laid back studying you can find. This is where Meducation and Youtube become your best friend. (I can post a list of my favourite channels if anyone is interested).I always email these people to thank them. I know from the nice people that run this website that it takes a tremendous amount of effort and a lot of the time and it's just us struggling students who have much to gain.
Everyone should use video tutorials. It doesn't matter if you're all Hermione with your books; every single person can benefit from them, especially for osce where no book can fully portray what you're supposed to do/see/hear during examinations.
Some youtube channels I like
We're all thinking it, lectures can be boring. Especially when the speaker has text vomited all over their slides (seriously, If I can't read it from the back of the lecture hall, there's too much!. It's even worse when they're just reading everything to you, and you're frantically trying to write everything down. Here's the thing, you're not supposed to write everything down. If you can print the slides beforehand or access them on your laptop/ipad/whatever you use and follow along, do that.
You're meant to listen, nod along thinking (oh yes I remember this or oooh that's what happens? or Oh I never came across that particular fact, interesting!). It's also meant to be a chance for you to discuss interesting cases from the a doctor's experiences. If you're lucky to have really interactive lecturers, interact! Don't be shy! Even if you make a fool of yourself, you're more likely to remember what you learned better.
If you happen to be in a lecture you're completely unprepared for (basically 70% of the time?). Think of it as "throwing everything at a wall and hoping something sticks." Pull up the slides on your smart phone if you have one, only take notes on interesting or useful things you hear the speaker say. If all else fails, these lectures where tell you what topics to go home and read about.
My university has gradually increased its use of tutorials, and I couldn't be happier. Make the most out of these because they are a gift. Having the focused attention of a knowledgeable doctor or professor in a small group for a prolonged period of time is hard to lock down during hospital hours. Ask lots of questions, raise topics you're having trouble understanding, this is your protected time.
In group study activities, this is particularly hard to make the most of when everyone in your group varies in studying progression, but even so, it can be beneficial. Other people's strengths might be your weaknesses and vise versa– and it's always helpful to hear an explanation about something from someone at your level, because they will neither under or over estimate you, and they will not get offended when you tell them "ok I get it that's enough."
Myself and 3 of my medic friends would meet once a week the month or two leading up to exams at one of our houses to go through OSCE stations and concepts we didn't understand (food helps too).
Besides peer discussions, you should take advantage of discussions with doctors. If the doctor is willing to give you their time, use it well.
I am a practice question book hoarder. Practice questions book not only test and reaffirm your knowledge, which is often hard to find if your exams are cumulative and you have little to no quizes/tests. They also have concise, useful explanations at the back and, they tell you where the gaps in your studying are. For my neuro rotation, the doctor giving the first and last lecture gave us a quiz, it was perfect for monitoring our progress, and the same technique can be used in your studies.
Practical Clinical Experiences
If you freeze up during exams and blank out, and suddenly the only forms of text floating around your brain are Taylor Swift lyrics, these are bound to come to your rescue! "Learn by doing."
Take as many histories as you can, do as many clinical exams in hospital, and on your friends to practice, as you can, see and DO as many clinical procedures as you can; these are all easy and usually enjoyable forms of studying.
Have you ever had an experience where one of your peers asks you about something and you give them a fairly good explanation then you think to yourself "Oh wow, I had no idea that was actually in there. High five me."
If there is ever an opportunity to teach students in the years below you or fellow students in your year, do it! It will force you to form a simplified/accurate explanation; and once you've taught others, it is sure to stick in your head.
Even if it's something you don't really know about, committing yourself to teaching others something forces you to find all the necessary information. Sometimes if there's a bunch of topics that nobody in my study group wants to do, we each choose one, go home and research it, and explain it to each other to save time. If you're doing this for a presentation, make handouts, diagrams or anything else that can be used as an aid.