So you think you can make a choice of what you want to be when you grow up, and be done with it? Think again! I once thought you could choose to be a doctor, and then you just became one. Happily ever after, you went to university and came out a fully fledged/capable medic. This is not how the system works. I have now found myself in the medical equivalent of “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. Everyone around me is choosing medical specialties and applying for jobs, while I am sitting around confused.
Let’s set out the path for everyone to follow, so we all know what is actually involved to become a doctor.
I’ll use what some say is the ‘easiest’ medical specialty as an example – general practitioner (GP)*. As you can see the beautiful infographic below lays out how to become a GP, first finish high school and get into medical school. This requires high scores in final exams, another high score in the UMAT or GAMSAT, and a stellar interview. If you are accepted, you have started your path.
*Disclaimer – I do not think GP is an easy specialty, and I respect every doctor out there working in general practice.
It take 9 years minimum to become a GP from entering medical school to qualifying. 9 years of working and studying. On top of this you must drop a lot of cash into the exams you have to sit.
Total cost GP exams: $9400 (if you pass them all 1st try)
Cost of membership annually to be a GP: $1474
Cost to be a registered Dr in Australia: $811
Which speciality to choose?
Ahh…now we are at the pointy end. You’re a doctor now, albeit very young and inexperienced. Most patients see your shaking sweaty hands coming at them with a needle and ask for your senior. You spend most of your work days googling frantically for advice “what is the dose of paracetamol”, “chest pain…what to do”. Yet, you are officially a doctor and people will actually ask for your help if there was an emergency on an aeroplane (hopefully they won’t).
All jokes aside, after a year or two you are starting to figure things out. You can actually run pretty efficiently, and be useful in the hospital. Finally, you feel a little in control…until you realise your contract is ending and you have to decide what to do next.
Will you be a surgeon, physician, work in critical care, paediatrics, obstetrics, gynaecology or GP? What type of surgeon? In critical care do you prefer intensive care, emergency department or anaesthetics?
A comical algorithm – questionable credit, but you get the idea. These specialties are just the clinical side of things too. In Australia, there are a whole other range of different specialties that I only learnt of last year! Click the header below to see the whole pdf, or read my summarised bullet points below. Each specialty has a link for more info.
- Addiction medicine
- Medical administration
- Occupational and environmental medicine
- Pain medicine
- Palliative medicine
- Public health medicine
- Radiation oncology
- Sexual health medicine
- Sport, and exercise medicine
Process of elimination
I find the easiest way is to say – what do I not want to do? So I ruled out surgery, physician, O&G, and probably paediatrics because it’s sad trying to put needles into really sick kids. I don’t mind sexual health, I actually enjoy some aspects of O&G but I don’t want to be in surgery. Anaesthetics was probably my favourite specialty, but I am not committed to the 5+ years needed. GP seems to be my only option. However, lately I have even been questioning if I want to do that. My heart just isn’t in it. Maybe I am just burnt out?
What if I don’t like any?
This is the camp I am sitting in these days. Disliking most specialties, apathetic to a few. Is apathy a strong foundation for a career? Probably not. I feel like I owe more to the patients I am seeing, and I owe more to myself. Patients deserve the best possible treatment, and they deserve someone who spends their spare time studying and improving themselves medically. My peers spend their time doing masters, PhDs, courses, research and exams. I spend my spare time painting landscapes. It feels like I am falling behind a bit.
A few people feel like me, I know because they have told me, sometimes people are too afraid to admit they have no idea too. Maybe you don’t know either. You’re not alone.
I’ll do a post soon about non-medical careers. Stay tuned and have a great evening 🙂