Things to think about and consider before you apply for a career in medicine – make sure this is the right career for you

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Medical careers are among the most rewarding the workplace has to offer and whatever your role, as a health care professional you will command respect, social standing – and often a good salary.

However jobs in medicine are also challenging and they can be stressful and demanding on both a professional and personal level. While many people are attracted to a medical career at some point in their life, not everyone is right for this sphere of work. And while you may be perfectly suited to some medical roles, you may be completely unsuited to others. From academic ability to the day to day tasks you enjoy, there are many things to think carefully about before applying for that health professional course.

All scrubbed up and ready to observe in surgery! Which medical career is the right one for me? 

Are you attracted to working in a hospital or other health care environment, but not sure exactly what role you would like to play?
Before you opt for a job title with which we are all familiar – hospital doctor, GP, nurse, physiotherapist – it’s worth exploring the vast range of jobs which are available in health care.
Chances are you will discover jobs you have never even heard of – anyone fancy being a phlebotomist? But these roles may be perfect for you.
You might also discover career paths which might help you combine your personal interests with your professional career. For example, do you love food and enjoy cooking up healthy meals for yourself every day? Perhaps you should consider being a nutritionist or dietician.
Invest a little time in research and explore any options which interest you to ensure you choose the right role for you. By the way, phlebotomists are specialised clinical support workers who take blood samples from patients without harming them or interrupting their nursing care. 

What is the day to day reality of your chosen job?
So you now know you want to be a physiotherapist because you want the satisfaction of seeing people  get back on their feet, literally, after accident or illness. 

The idea of watching a patient walk out of the hospital door after you have helped them return to fitness after serious injury is an inspiring one. But what will your chosen role require you to do on  a daily basis to play a part in that recovery? 

The NHS careers website www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/ is an excellent one-stop-shop which lists details of all jobs in the NHS and is a great starting point of you are not sure which role you want to pursue. The websites of the relevant professional body which regulates your chosen profession will also be a good source of accurate information.

If you know what you want to do ask your local hospital or practise if they you could have an informal chat with someone in the profession about the real highlights and pitfalls of the day to day job. 

Think long term
You may see yourself studying for a degree in medicine or physiotherapy or nursing in the near future. But where do you see yourself in five, ten or even 20 years time? The decisions you make now will impact on how smooth is the route to achieving your long-term ambition.
For example, do you want to be a nurse but prefer not to be indoors all day? In that case life as a community nurse may be the path for you ten years from now. But what will you need on your CV to get that job? If you have a good idea now of where you want to be in the long-term you can tailor every academic and professional step to creating the perfect career history to achieve your future dream.
Choosing the right medical placement for your gap year could give you the perfect work experience and springboard to be where you want to be ten years from now.

Interpersonal skills
Medical careers involve working closely with people, often at times of great trauma for them. Tact, empathy and a genuine interest in people and helping them are just as important as academic ability or a fascination with science.

If you are uncertain whether you have these qualities or feel comfortable working in this way, choose a work experience programme which will challenge you in these areas. 

Initiative, team work and team leadership

Most medical professionals work in teams. In Accident and Emergency these are tight-knit teams who must pull together under pressure. As a community nurse you are likely to spend less time with your colleagues – but more time liaising with them either by telephone, email or at update meetings. Team work offers a great support system – but all medical professionals are required to work on their own initiative too, making important decisions on their own. Some positions, for example hospital consultant, require the confidence, drive and diplomacy needed to lead a team.

Do you have the skills required for your chosen role? If not yet, what professional and social activities can you pursue to help you acquire them.

Physical and emotional stamina
Medical careers are physically and emotionally demanding due to the long hours, high pressure and often traumatic cases with which medics must deal. The right work experience should help you gain an idea of whether you have what it takes in these areas. If you have a disability or underlying condition, talk to the university or hospital you hope to train at and ask whether this would prevent you from doing the job. Employers today are keen to be inclusive and recognise the value of a diverse workforce – after all, who will understand a child who has lost the ability to walk better than a health care professional who has been through the same experience themselves?

Academically able……..but not academically inclined?

Do you have the academic ability to get on the course of your choice? And do you have the academic ability to stay the course? You may be a straight A* student at school thanks more to natural ability than hard graft – but training for many medical careers will require both. If you intend university to be an endless social whirl, even if it means putting your grades at risk, you might want to think again about whether the world of medicine is really for you at this stage in your life.  

Be sure to choose an accredited course

Although most areas of health care are strictly regulated and the right to practise requires membership of a professional body, many areas of medicine also have a hinterland of therapists  who are practising legally – but with qualifications which are not accredited by professional bodies. 

For example, if you search the internet under the term “nutritionist” or “dietician” you will find a plethora of qualifications and courses related to careers in this area. But not all of them are recognised by the Association for Nutrition, which is the UK body for registered nutritionists or the British Dietetic Association which regulates dieticians. 

This may not be an issue if you are more attracted to areas of complementary therapy – but if you want to pursue a career in the NHS, you should do a course which is currently accredited by the professional regulatory authority of your chose health profession. Check their websites to be sure you don’t throw away your cash on a course which will not lead to the job you want.  

Which accredited course?

Every university has its own personality and opportunities, as do the hospitals and clinics with which they have teaching partnerships. Make sure you choose the one that suits your career needs – and your personal preferences too. Go to university open days, check out online forums linked to the course at the university you are attracted to and ask questions.

Evidence-based research is the basis of modern medicine – make it the basis of your own choice of university and professional practise area and you are likely to secure the rewarding medical career you dream of. 

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