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Feeling uncertain about specialty choice

Why do people consider changing specialty?      
How do people experience change?
How can I change specialty?
Case Studies

Considering Changing Specialty

People who are considering changing specialty may be doing so for a variety of reasons but there are generally two common themes

  1. Making a voluntary change
  2. Having to change

There will always be a proportion of doctors who decide or need to change specialty.

You may be experiencing a range of feelings around change of specialty and understanding the reasons behind this is important to explore. There is a range of support available to discuss and assist you with this change.

Reasons why trainees may changes specialty

  • "The specialty just isn't me - it doesn't fit with my values"
  • "I am on a conveyor belt and need to get off"
  • "I didn't pursue XYZ specialty because I thought I couldn't do it so I did the 'safe' specalty"
  • "I feel disenchanted/uncomfortable in my current specialty"
  • "I didn't realise which specialty I wanted to do until now"
  • "My family /friends wanted me do my current specialty"
  • "I have a health problem and need to change"

Support available to consider change of specialty 

If you are considering changing specialty it is important to seek support, by talking to people who can help you in your decision making process and assist you in switching specialties. Think about the support networks you already have around you;

  1. Family and friends.
  2. Your educational supervisor.
  3. A mentor.
  4. Another trainee or a consultant in the specialty you are interested in. The Careers champions list in the East Midlands may be a useful resource, you will need a VLE login to access the list. For more information see the Careers champions info on the website.  
  5. You can also seek support from external people and organisations such as the BMA and relevant royal college.
  6. A careers adviser (find out further information on the 1:1 Careers Support Service).
  7. We offer a tailored workshop for doctors considering changing specialty/career, (find out about our next Informing Choices workshop).
  8. There are a variety of professional services you may choose to access, such as Career Guidance or Coaching. One of the main professional bodies associated with careers practice is the Career Development Institute (CDI ). You would expect someone providing such services to have qualifications and experience, and possibly to belong to a professional organisation i.e. CDI, AGCAS or the Association for Coaching.

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Experiencing Change

The change curve provides a model for change which can aid understanding around the thoughts/feelings which are present when we are in some uncertainty around our career. You may find it helpful to discuss this with someone, a friend, supportive colleague, supervisor, etc. You can also arrange a 1:1 meeting with a member of the Careers Team.

Important points to bear in mind when facing change:

  • It is perfectly natural to feel a range of thoughts and emotions - some may be competing against each other at the same time (e.g. you might feel frustrated and have a confidence crisis at the same time)
  • You may be facing more than one change in your life, e.g. personal and professional
  • Even if you can move one step nearer to feeling more in control that is a positive step. 

How to change specialty

It is important before you change specialty to have considered the points above about why you wish to change, to have thoroughly explored your career options, and to have given thought to what you are looking for in your chosen career.   The following steps will assist you in making an informed decision.

  • Consider carefully why you are seeking a change
  • Explore what you are looking for in a different specialty
  • Research your options carefully, e.g:
    • Discuss with colleagues, supervisors, consultants, GPs, relevant royal colleges etc.
    • Do relevant web based research on different specialties and the process of applying into the new specialty.
    • Look at job specifications to see if your skills match and to identify at what level you would need to apply.

Case Studies

The Health Careers website contains two case studies written by doctors who have switched specialties.  We would welcome case studies from local doctors who have changed specialty, so if you would like to write a short article about your experiences please contact us. This will be anonymised for the website if you prefer.