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Five keys to taking charge of your medical career

Five keys to taking charge of your medical career - Featured Image


You’ve done your internship, you’re nearing the end of your PGY2 year, and you’re thinking seriously about where you want to go next. It can be a daunting stage of your medical career, particularly as competition for training positions can be ferocious. What can you do to take charge and give yourself an edge when applying for positions?

Christine Brill, Career Adviser at the Australian Medical Association, says this stage of a doctor’s career is a complex crossroads but the key to navigating it is to know yourself first.

“You have to know what intrinsically motivates you,” she says.  “You’ll know what you like and dislike about medicine to this point, so it is more likely than not that you’ll have a number of specialty options in consideration. Our Career Service website’s Specialty Training Pathway Guide will help you narrow down your choices by allowing you to view up to five specialties on your screen.  This is one of our most popular web resources.”

Another critical factor, Christine says, is what kind of lifestyle you want as you move further into your medical career. Orthopaedic surgeons, for example, work very long hours and are often on call with a high level of unpredictability, so if this doesn’t sound like your preferred lifestyle, it may not be the right career path for you.

Location is also key aspect: in choosing a medical specialty, you should think about whether you’re ready to move to pursue your career, and whether your chosen specialty can be done in one location.

Other issues to think about are whether you want to work in the public or private sector, or a blend of both; how much it’s going to cost you to achieve your objectives; how long the training will take you; and how competitive you’ll need to be with your peers to get a place in your chosen program.

“You’re going to be competing, so what you’ll need above all else is a really good CV,” says Christine.

“Every CV that crosses my desk needs to be tweaked. People don’t always understand what needs highlighting. You need to present information so that it excites interest and offers a solid snapshot of the candidate in the shortest possible time. Because your CV will not be the only one looked at on any given day.”

Christine adds that the cover letter and any statement addressing selection criteria are equally important.

“These documents will determine whether you get an interview – or not.  So it’s worth investing time in them.”

Another question that junior doctors ask themselves is what other things they should be doing in their early years to help them achieve their objectives. Should they be going off to do a PhD, a Masters, or getting into research?

“Generally, good advice is just to get lots of experience,” Christine says. “Narrowing your focus may not serve you as well as getting lots of experience.  Look at what the Colleges are looking for in their candidates, and focus on those as your prerequisites.”

Here are some keys to making the right decisions as you move forward in your medical career:

  • Know yourself and understand what motivates you;
  • Make sure you get as much experience as possible. Find out what your preferred training College is looking for and focus on that. Time off for a PhD or Masters at this stage may not be the best idea;
  • Think about where you want work, how hard you want to work and how much you’re prepared to sacrifice;
  • If you’re leaning towards one specialty, talk to a senior colleague and ask if you can tag along to get a feel for the discipline;
  • Your CV and cover letter are critically important: get professional advice to make sure they’re as sharp as they can be.

Visit the AMA Career Advice Hub for useful information across the whole medical-life journey as well as Career Counselling Service resources. For one-on-one assistance, contact Christine at careers@ama.com.au .

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