Every year, I end up counseling a student who, from day one, was absolutely certain they wanted to go into surgery. They scheduled their rotations to put surgery last, so they would get really good evaluations. They cruised through pediatrics, medicine, ob-gyn, etc as observers, rather than real participants, because they were so sure they were going to be a surgeon. Finally, the big day arrives – they start their surgery rotation. Within a few weeks they begin to realize….. they hate surgery. Now they are really stuck. What kind of doctor should they be?
There is an easy way to prevent this from happening.
Wear the white coat.
When you start your pediatrics rotation, be a pediatrician. When the residents and attendings ask what you are interested in, tell them you think pediatrics is really interesting. It will be true, if you are “trying on the white coat”. (It will also inevitably lead to better evaluations, by the way, but that is secondary gain.) When you are on medicine, be an internist. When you are on surgery, be a surgeon. You get the idea. Really immerse yourself in the field, imagine it will be your future. It’s necessary, but not sufficient to learn what you need to know for the shelf exam. If you are going to wear the white coat, you have to go beyond what you learn from patients and about patient care. How does an internist think? What makes a particular case in surgery more challenging than another? How does an obstetrician deal with a difficulty delivery at 2am? What defines the culture of pediatrics? Does the “coat” of a neurologist fit you?
Over 80% of students change their mind about what specialty they want to pursue as they go through their rotations. Choosing your specialty is not hard, but you have to genuinely keep an open mind as you “try on” all the specialties. One of them will fit better than others, but it’s probably not the one you expected!