This blog discusses if you need to know what type of doctor you want to be before entering medical school. We also consider how to respond at your Medicine interview if asked what kind of doctor you want to be.

Are you applying to be a plastic surgeon via UCAS?

When applying to study at medical school, you are not committing to a speciality. You are not applying to be a paediatrician or a vascular surgeon. You may have some inclinations of the career you want or have none. Both of which are fine as medical school and working as a doctor will give you the necessary exposure to make a decision. You may (and likely will) change your mind several times along the way. You may not be committing to a speciality, but you do need to be fully determined that you want to study Medicine and understand the attributes, values and skills required of all doctors.

A fantastic quality of Medicine is that it is a vastly diverse career. Specialities are very different and tend to attract different personalities. There is a career to suit almost every type of medical student. Medicine and Surgery have several dozen specialities within them which are very different and lead to vastly different working lives. Within these specialities are even more subspecialties. The same is true for non-medical and surgical specialities such as Paediatrics, Psychiatry, Emergency Medicine, Lab based Medical and General practice.

Doctors in outer space

There are also specialities you may not have heard of such as Sports & Exercise Medicine, Wilderness & Expedition Medicine, Nuclear Medicine, Rehabilitation Medicine, Occupational Medicine, Public Health, Medical Education and more. Doctors work in outer space, in Antarctica, on far-flung expeditions, in jungles, war zones, on submarines, cruise ships and helicopter rescue teams. They work for the military, for NASA, for Manchester United FC and thousands of other professional sports teams. They appear on TV, host their own shows and write books. They are employed by multinational FTSE 100 companies as well as by smaller companies. Many doctors have their own medical and non-medical businesses.

A jack of all trades and a master of their speciality

There are hundreds of specialities and subspecialties in Medicine. However, to ultimately become that type of doctor you need to pass medical school (where you must pass exams covering all the major specialities), and then work for several years as a doctor in various specialisations as part of your training. Only then would you start higher specialisation and even then, this could be diverse particularly early on. For example, part of an orthopaedic surgeons training may involve working in an entirely different speciality such as general surgery for several months. This is why you need to possess the attributes, values and skills which are shared amongst all doctors. You have to be interested in Medicine enough that you can work and excel in all of its specialities.

This type of broad training of doctors is particularly the case in the UK. This has the benefit of producing very well-rounded doctors and incredibly fulfilling and interesting careers. It also allows doctors to change careers at multiple points of their working lives with no time, career progression or money lost. For example, a doctor could work in a training program called ACCS for two years. This includes jobs in Emergency Medicine, Anaesthetics, Critical Care and Acute Medicine. This training is valid for applying to higher specialisation in all of those specialities and even in other unrelated fields such as dermatology. Also, the mixture of specialities in ACCS will make people better doctors and help them in their final area of specialisation. For example, skills learned in an anaesthetic job in protecting and managing a patient’s airway are incredibly useful for an Emergency Medicine doctor as are the practical procedures performed in critical care (for example inserting central lines into patients). Emergency Medicine skills are incredibly helpful for Acute Medicine doctors.

Similarly, a doctor can decide that they ultimately want to be a medical consultant (e.g. a cardiologist, neurologist etc.) and to do this they start by working for several years in core medical training which does not require them to commit to a specific medical speciality at that stage. After completing core medical training, they can enter higher training to specialise in one particular medical speciality, e.g. gastroenterology or can even use that training to apply to a non-medical speciality such as Dermatology, Occupational Medicine etc. just as completing ACCS allows.

A downside to the UK’s broader training is that becoming a consultant takes longer than in some other countries for example America. However, medical school is shorter in the UK (hence you start earning money sooner) than in countries like America. Medical school in the UK is typically five years. In America, it is usually only four years but a previous degree, typically taking around four years, is needed before you can enter medical school.

Also, the UK has a more favourable funding system for university than America. Some describe the loan in the UK as more akin to a graduate-only tax than a normal loan. In the UK, the student loan does not affect your credit score. It does not have to be paid back at all if you are not earning over a certain amount. It is entirely wiped away after a certain number of years if you have not paid it back in full (doctors do tend to repay the whole debt as their career earnings are high, but most other students, at the time of writing, do not repay the entire debt). Also, at the time of writing, the NHS pays the medical school tuition fees for one year for English domiciled students. The other countries in the UK have similar systems. The NHS payment is also different for graduate students who are specifically studying in accelerated four-year graduate courses; the NHS still contributes to their tuition fees but over a different time period. The NHS also provide means-tested and non-means tested grants (i.e. does not need to be repaid) to students for one year. Again, it is different for graduate students who are studying specifically on accelerated four-year courses.

Further ways doctors and medical students explore their career interests

In Medical school students are exposed to all the main specialities. Both as a student and while working as a doctor you have the opportunity to study extra degrees, masters and PhD’s in areas of your choice. Some of these are even subsidised or fully funded. Medical schools allow you to pick certain modules which you are interested in. They also have electives where students typically choose to go abroad to a country of their choice. Medical students go everywhere from Australia to Zimbabwe on their electives and have all sorts of weird and wonderful roles.

Doctors can also take time out of training and locum in jobs they wish to get more experience in or explore. Doctors in training programmes are usually given a chance to take paid career taster days in other specialities if they choose and have paid study leave which they can use to go on various courses. Doctors have the option of working abroad and working in Australia and New Zealand, for example, is very popular.

There is always scope for improvement. Doctors have complained that with increasing workloads and understaffing in the NHS, their training has been impacted as they are sometimes forced to act as “service providers” rather than doctors in a training programme. Some of these issues are being addressed, and the training landscape for doctors in the UK is currently being reviewed.

If you are asked at interview what type of Doctor do you want to be?

We cover this question in more depth in our free interview database which you can find in our resources section under Medicine interview guide. In summary, if you have a career in mind, then it is fine to mention it but be careful how you do so. Remember you have very little exposure to any real Medicine at this stage so your answer should reflect your limited perspective. You can talk about how you have an early interest in this field and are keen to learn more. However, you are aware you need more exposure, training and careers advice before coming to any decisions and it is possible that in the future you may favour other areas instead. You could stand out by saying that you are aware that the university has a society for the area you are interested in, e.g. Psychiatry society etc.

How can Medicine Answered help you apply to Medical school?

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