How to choose the right medical career

December 3, 2020

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

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If you are interested in healthcare, you may be wondering how to choose the right medical careerBefore you decide, focus on shadowing different healthcare professionals, doing the research, and then ask yourself some questions about your preferences. 

We help students with different interests by providing doctor shadowing and global health experience programs on the front lines of international hospitals and clinics. You get to observe medical and surgical cases on our program, which can be unique to what most pre-med or pre-health students get to see in their home countries.

We’ve explored how shadowing will help you understand the roles and responsibilities of each profession, what you need to know, and what kinds of questions you should be asking yourself to help you make the decision. 

Shadow different medical professionals

Many students struggle with how to choose the right medical career. Or maybe you already have an inclination towards a medical specialty. But either way, it’s good to get as many diverse experiences as you can before you make your decision.

If you’re interested in nursing, for example, it’s definitely a good idea to shadow a nurse. However, you may also want to shadow some other healthcare professionals so that you understand the differences between the professions.

It’s entirely possible for you to be more inspired by a different career. Now is the time to explore those options, before you make a commitment. 

At Global Pre-Meds, we curate our programs to give you a one of a kind, first-hand look at the healthcare field. We have students on our programs who want to be doctors, nurses, physician assistants, and midwives, and they all gain a great deal from the experience. We select medical doctors to serve as your mentors throughout a two-week program, in a professional working environment. Our goal is to help premed and pre health students decide if medicine is right for them, and where they want to go next. 

If you shadow multiple doctors or healthcare professionals, try to spend a good amount of time with each one, so you can see what the day-to-day life is really like. If you shadow someone for only one day, you may not be getting a broad enough view of their career.

Keep a notebook with a list of questions, including the ones we list below, and take advantage of the learning opportunity. You’ll want to learn as much as you can during this time. 

Research each medical career 

Healthcare professionals are also scientists, and as a scientist you need to gather all your facts. Create a spreadsheet or another document where you can list all the relevant facts about each job you’re interested in, and compare and contrast them. 

Consider the future of each career path and their projected growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of the fastest growing occupations. For example, one of the jobs with the highest projected growth is nurse practitioner, which means the high demand for NPs will make it easier to find a job in this field by the time you’re finished with your training. 

You’ll want to know exactly what kind of education is required to become a nurse, midwife, doctor, physician assistant, or whatever career you’re interested in. This includes how many years of school and how much it’s going to cost.

You may want to consider the cost to complete your education compared to the salary you will have once you’ve reached your goal. This is called your return on investment (ROI) and can be a significant factor for students trying to choose their medical career path. 

And finally, you should be well aware of the roles and responsibilities of each profession, as well as the subspecialties that exist within each job. You may be surprised by what you find. Some jobs, such as physician assistant, have a range of specialities within the career that might interest you. Physician assistants are found in almost every specialty that doctors are in, but they require less schooling than MDs. It all depends on which factors are most important for you. 

Ask yourself these questions

After you’ve done all the shadowing, and all the research, it’s time for you to ask yourself some questions and figure out what it is you’re interested in. 

We’ve listed some important questions for you to consider when trying to choose a medical profession. 

What scientific research and clinical work is interesting to you? The heart of it all – what are you passionate about? Which science classes did you enjoy, which parts of the body did you find most fascinating? Think about what area is going to continually motivate you to learn more.

Where do you want to work? Think about the kind of working environment that you enjoy. This could be a hospital, family clinics, or maybe you want to work abroad. Check to see where you would be eligible to work.

Do you prefer surgical cases, medical cases, or a mixture of both? You don’t necessarily have to choose. But if you’re passionate about one over the other, make sure whatever field you choose will allow you to handle those types of cases. This is another example of something you should pay attention to while you’re shadowing. Observe which cases you’re most excited about.

How much do you want to interact with patients? For some students, patient interaction is what they care most about. Figure out what you want because not every field spends a lot of time with patients.

What kinds of patients do you want to work with? Consider whether you want to treat children, geriatric, or oncology patients. Some students go into medicine because they want to work with a specific population. If this is something that matters to you, make sure your job will include them.

What is your ideal work/life balance? Each profession requires a different time commitment. This is a great question to ask as you shadow different healthcare positions. Ask your mentor or supervisor how many hours they work per day and how they manage their time.

While you don’t have to have all the answers right now, these are some things you should think seriously about before choosing a career. It’s helpful to have these questions in the back of your mind as you fulfill your prerequisites and get healthcare experience. 

Not every question or topic is important to you in your career. But make sure you have an idea of what your priorities are.

If you’re interested in exploring your career possibilities or are wondering how to choose the right medical career, consider our Global Pre-Meds programs. We can help you see what it’s really like on the front lines of hospitals and clinics. Check out our program dates here