close× Email

Out of the Question

Final year medical student Peter Murray discusses his concerns about medical students being rushed into career choices. Why can't we live in the moment?

You know the one. The one question thrown at you instantly and repeatedly by almost everybody you meet, after learning what you’re studying; doctors, patients, peers, perhaps even the postman. For the regular people in your life, it returns almost every time you meet them. That one. “Do you know what you want to specialise in yet?”


Through your five to six years of medical school, the answer to this question either becomes either a carefully choreographed exercise in cheerful evasion or, a source of consistent and ever creative means of justifying yourself for the lack of concrete answer. For the very few, repeating its answer becomes a confident foundation upon which to build ambitions, forming your identity and direction early on.


But why does this question, so innocuously familiar, strike fear into the hearts of so many? Simply, we really are expected to have an answer for it, or so it seems. Not only from day one, but long before.


By the time you come to write your personal statement; that well-crafted, unendingly edited bundle of joy; you must be able to speak at length of your interests and micro-interests in Medicine, to stand even half a chance of looking like you’re taking it seriously. So by the time you’ve landed on the course, with nothing more than a discounted stethoscope and a fresher’s wristband, it can feel as though you must be on your path, with absolute clarity. The further you get, the more likely it is presumed that you have cemented your initial desires or encountered your eureka moment. 


The reality is very different. It’s only as you embark down those five or six years that you realise how many and varied the opportunities that exist. You more than likely realise how relatively little you had known and considered before entering in, and uncertainty may set in more than ever before. These are, in fact, no bad things. More to the point, this is entirely normal. Rather than feeling under pressure to choose, students should feel the freedom of being able to do so many different things, without any commitments or conflict. Within medical school and beyond; course modules, placements, SSCs, electives, intercalations, foundation posts, taster weeks, locum jobs, teaching fellowships, work abroad and more mean you’re in no rush to decide, but have every opportunity to do so.


Perhaps though, this question’s quandary epitomises the wider challenge of medical school; being unable to live within the moment. Forced to always look ahead; the next assignment, the next exam, the next rotation, intercalation, FPAS application, junior contract changes, extra-curricular interests and all the other focusses and facets of becoming ‘tomorrow’s doctor’, today. With all of these considerations and more to think about, we should feel confident and proud of our ability to remain on track, mapping out a direction in front of us, without any necessary knowledge of where we are actually headed. After all, “not all who wander are lost”. So therefore, journey on. Try everything, change your mind… wander some more. You have all kinds of time. 

Guest Blog: Peter Murray, 21.10.2015


    Leave a Reply

    Note: HTML is not translated!
    * Required Field