It’s never too early to start planning for entry into a surgical specialty, writes Jamie Nicholson
Junior doctors must decide on their specialty earlier than ever before. Whether it is uncoupled core surgical training or run through training, intense competition requires candidates to have adequate experience and achievements.
"Perhaps it is often overlooked that our medical career started on the first day of medical school"
To gain exposure to surgical specialties during undergraduate years, students must be proactive. This could mean a summer project, student selected modules, an intercalated degree or an elective in later years. At present, an intercalated BSc only holds a modest advantage on the current FY application form, although benefits which are often overlooked are the opportunities for bursaries, prizes and publications, which often stem from intercalating. This is an important concept for students who do not look past the FY application, where there is little discrimination on academic achievements despite these counting substantially towards their future surgical portfolio.
The prospect of taking a year out of clinical training to intercalate is a difficult decision for those who have little appreciation of academic medicine at this point in their training. My decision to intercalate was made very early, and I was fortunate to undertake a clinically-based orthopaedic project exploring the dynamics of ACL reconstructions through pre- and post-operative MRI scans. The average week consisted of a theatre list, at which I assisted, patient recruitment, organising MRI scans and their subsequent interpretation, and, of course, writing the eventual thesis. During this, I felt less like a medical student and more like a specialty research fellow. It was an enjoyable experience and a valuable insight into clinical research which focused me on a career in academic surgery. Of equal benefit, it provided prolonged exposure to a specialty that I would have otherwise missed out on during my undergraduate years.
Career advice in medical school is limited and it is usually left to students to seek out the relevant guidance. Because of the reduced time and clinical exposure to specialties while serving as a junior doctor, students who can’t decide on a field will find it even more difficult to be competitive. The idea of a ‘taster’ week in FY2, to gain insight into specialties, seems inadequate and too late at this stage of training.
The RCSEd Undergraduate Affiliate Scheme provides high quality surgical events and courses for medical students aiming for a career in surgery. Undergraduate surgical societies in medical schools also provide valuable early exposure to surgery. In Aberdeen, the Ogston Surgical Society runs workshops on suturing and practical clinical skills throughout the year, along with regular talks from surgeons providing an insight into their field of practice. The RCSEd ‘Future Surgeon: Keys Skills’ course has also run twice in Aberdeen in the last 12 months and has been very well-received by students.
Most of us in medical school look eagerly towards graduating so that we can begin our career as doctors. Perhaps it is often overlooked though that our medical career started on the first day of medical school. Students in their early years at medical school should be encouraged to make the most of any opportunity to gain an appreciation of what a surgical career entails.
Jamie A Nicholson, Aberdeen Medical Student