What I learnt from Medical School - Making Decisions
As students, when we decide to apply to Medical School we have to make an important decision with lasting consequences. It is a long but rewarding course and with it comes the opportunity to make even more career-influencing and life-altering choices. During my time at Medical School myself, and many of my colleagues, often found it challenging to know how to make the best decisions and how to choose between many good options. When all of the options could be successful but each is unique in what it offers, how does one make the right choice for themselves?
Whether it was which BSc degree to complete, which deaneries to rank highest for Foundation jobs, or indeed which type of Foundation job to apply for, it seemed as though we were always on the footstep of another important choice. I think the nature of most medical students is to research different options, maybe come up with an analytical system to rank choices, and to pre-empt the consequences of each route. I would like to share some of the principles I have learnt to help decision making become easier.
One of the most influential people for a student making an important decision is a mentor. A mentor acts as a sounding board, a person whom has the interest of their student at heart but also the technical knowledge and hands-on experience afforded by their working years. Most Medical Schools assign students well-established Consultants, and I have also found mentors in people I have met through my time at hospitals and the Medical School. Perhaps it is in the specific environments which we are drawn to that that we find the most influential people for us. For instance, I found a mentor in another medical student whom had a doctorate when I became interested in academic work; a foundation doctor on the ward whom was a national of the same foreign country as I; a female surgeon negotiating the stereotypes of a largely male speciality.
The old saying goes “Life is a journey, not a destination”. I did not fully understand what this meant until my final few years at Medical School when I worked alongside the university’s Head of Undergraduate Surgery, an Orthopaedic Surgeon. It happens all too often one can conjure an image of who they want to become, what they want to attain or where they want to be in the future. This method of thinking has doubtless been successful, but it risks turning every decision from a molehill into a mountain and putting one under the false pretence that there is only one road to success. Instead, this Surgeon often suggested that each option should be weighed-up against the other available options and the best route taken. When the next decision comes along, again it too should be weighed-up against the alternatives and the best chosen. By doing this, one finds themselves in the most conducive environment for their needs at that time, that the people they meet are those most likely to become stead-fast colleagues and life-time friends, and that the destination will be most suited for their specific interests.
I think one of the most common fears is the fear of making the “wrong choice”; of not choosing the “best” option. I want to suggest that there is no “perfect” option. Every choice is unique and offers different opportunities. Through taking a step back one can objectively evaluate their experiences and will realise that no choice is fully binding and decisions can be some-what undone, particularly for students and younger trainees. Instead, if each experience is taken as a learning opportunity, the soft skills developed can be invaluable when transferred to a different environment.
As people working in the medical profession we are constantly surrounded by choices. Choices which have a short-term impact, and those with longer-term consequences; decisions which will affect patients and their families, and those which will be more personal to us and our lives. However, through a strong support network, focusing on the options at hand and remembering that not many things are fully binding, we can be more confident in making these decisions. Choosing to go to Medical School might only be the beginning, but it is the beginning of having the privilege of endless opportunities- maybe too many opportunities!
Karishma Shah, UCL Graduate 2016