A doctor's advice to choosing medicine

August 23, 2019 - Dr Linda Mao

It’s a cliché to say that medicine is tough but rewarding, but it is a cliché for a reason. Signing up for a career in medicine is a huge commitment. It’s also a commitment to never being bored, job security and if you love it, job satisfaction that is hard to find elsewhere. So it’s important to know the best and the worst parts of the job, important to know what the job actually involves, and most importantly of all, to know that it’s what you want to do.

Why I chose medicine

My motivation for studying medicine was a mix of the noble and the practical. I come from a very Asian home, and therefore my original job options were limited to teacher (too hard), accountant (too boring), lawyer (too wordy) or doctor (just right?). I enjoyed biology, job security and the idea of helping people, so I duly sent off my personal statement, sat a series of interviews, landed fresh-faced at Medical School and graduated slightly less fresh-faced into Junior Doctor-hood.

Find out more about the full medical school application process here.

Insights into being a doctor

For me, the most difficult part of the job is uncertainty – whether you will make the right decision to bring about the best outcomes for your patients. As a foundation doctor, the most important decisions will be the job of your seniors to make, but even small decisions can impact patient care. Each decision also puts a strain on other colleagues and services as well – if I prioritise this job, who will do the others? Is this referral I’m making appropriate, or will it put unnecessary strain on an already over-subscribed service?

You will be supported in decision making by a multi-disciplinary team, who all work together to ensure the best possible outcomes for a patient. The training is also designed in such a way that as you gain experience and rise in seniority (and responsibility), your ability and confidence to make decisions will grow proportionally as well.

Nearly everyone says how much they enjoy interacting with people in their medical school interviews, as a motivation for picking Medicine as a career. I must admit that I did, and I’m pleased to say I haven’t lied, and continue to tell the truth. It’s not always easy to remember this motivation though - sometimes in the heat of the working day/night/on-call, patients turn into a list of jobs that need to be done. But when you take the time to remember, you are rewarded. The highlights of my job have all involved talking to people – whether it’s joking with your team or patients, unpicking a difficult history, or settling angry or upset people on the wards.

Advice for med school applicants

A medical degree is also a gateway to lots of other things. The hoops you need to jump through in order to get in, graduate and progress equip you with a range of very transferable skills. I think what doing medicine demonstrates overall is simply determination: it implies you have the qualities needed to persevere. It means you’ve done the extra-curriculars, done the evidence-based practice, done the time. It means you have likely faced failure and grown from it. It means you have invested in yourself – paying for courses, exams and the fees to stay in practice.

If I had the chance to reapply to university knowing what I did now, I would definitely still pick medicine. The only thing I would do differently is probably take a gap year, or consider doing a different degree first – what put me off initially is the thought of being ‘so old’ when I graduated. As a late-20 year old now, I can happily (and not at all compensating-ly) say that taking your time can only be a good thing. I really believe that the more varied the experiences you have, the better a doctor you will make, and if you’re applying to do medicine because you’re not sure what else is out there, take the time to find out first. Being a doctor is a commitment and a privilege, and I feel very lucky to call myself one.

Dr Linda Mao is a FY3 doctor and contributor at Dream Smart Tutors (a medical careers advice organisation). For more insights into choosing a medical career path find out more here.


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