Choosing a Medical Speciality - Self Awareness 

Choosing a speciality is a big decision that involves thinking about the long term and what you want from your personal and professional life. Ultimately, finding a pathway that offers fulfilment and satisfaction.  The SCAN model (animation below) gives a structure for making such careers decisions.

The SCAN Career Planning Model = Self Awareness (this section) - Career Exploration - Arriving at a decision - Next Steps 

Reflecting on your own values, strengths, abilities, skills, talents, interests, personality and stressors (Self awareness) is the first stage of the SCAN model for successful career management in health. Clearly understanding these areas means you can:

· make career choices that are both attainable and sustainable

· consider if you align with a specialty

· navigate to experiences and roles that align with values and strengths

· understand what motivates and how to achieve career fulfilment short term and longer term

· produce more credible, coherent applications and answers to interview question


In this section, we break down the key considerations and questions to answer when choosing your specialty which can be informed by self-awareness exercises linked to the following questions:

  • What are your Values, Key Strengths, Skills and Abilities, Interests, Stressors and Personality type?
  • How does your speciality choice match your lifestyle preferences?
  • What if you are unsure about your specialty preferences?



How important was self awareness in coming to a speciality training decision? (Dr Kiara Vincent (EM Registrar) & Dr Ellen Adams (CSRH Registrar)

Dr Vincent and Dr Adams talk through the importance of self awareness in coming to a speciality training decision after Foundation training



We recommend that you work through the different sections below. Following this section you can move onto the next step ‘Career Exploration’​ where the focus is on how you can research your career options in more detail including links to key web resources for specialty exploration and F3 options.


Booking an appointment
It can be useful to discuss your thoughts and ideas with a Careers Consultant to gain further clarity. Request for an appointment. Foundation Stage Doctors can book in for a Careers MOT.


What are your key drivers? Values

Work values are the core aspects of work that are most important, the more these are present in your role, the more likely you will to experience job satisfaction.

Complete these two exercises to establish your values.

Values self reflection table Reflect on times in your career and personal life that made you happy and fulfilled or angry and frustrated.

'What are your Values?' exercise Identify from a list of 120 any values that were being met or not met, at the times you have written about in exercise one. Can you write down your top 8 values? Keep a note of these.

After you have written these down, it can be useful to reflect on which specialties may fulfil these values.

What are your key strengths, skills and abilities?

Considering your skills, and then finding a career that utilises these, will ensure your career is sustainable in the long term. Identifying and articulating these is also a key part of being successful in the application process.

Skills Task, what are your top 5 skills?

Keep a note of these. Is there are certain category which your skills fall into?

Preferred Skills Task. Choose your preferred activities and see how these link to your skills. The chart at the end shows which of these skills are assesed in speciality applications.

There can be certain aspects of work that we may have not mastered yet, but that we really enjoy and would like to work to develop. It is worth identifying these and looking for opportunities to carry out this development.

Good at vs Enjoy Skills Task. This can give a clear indication of your preferences and those tasks that you may like to avoid in your future career path.

Reflecting on your skills and how you have developed these is an essential part of strong applications. Could you now create a list of your main skills? Under each one you could write bullet points of the experiences that have helped you to develop these.

Another key aspect of strong applications is identifying in advance the key skills that you need to develop. Could you now write down these skills? And then brainstorm possible ways you could develop them.

What are your interests?

There is often a strong relationship between what you enjoy doing and what you are good at doing.

Reflecting on your interests and passions, and articulating these in meaningful way, will significantly strengthen your applications. Assessors will be looking to see that you have a strong enough interest in an area, to sustain the stressors and strains that may be encountered.

Interests Exercise Can you choose two achievements and consider the interests these are connected to? These do not need to be of huge or rare, but something that you have done that you felt proud of and you may have achieved positive feedback for from colleagues or patients (although this is not essential). Perhaps you could think of ways to further explore and demonstrate this interest.

What do you want to avoid? What are your stressors?

Being aware of those aspects of working life which can lead to stress if not managed properly.

Stressors Exercise Take time to reflect on the questions written below:

· How have family events impacted on your working life? (e.g. health of family members, bereavement)

· How has your ability to manage both family demands and work impacted on your wellbeing in the past and how might this be affected by your choice of specialty?

· How easy do you find it to manage deadlines, respond to changing workloads – either too much or too little work, increases in responsibility and possible conflict in the workplace?

· How have you dealt with work tasks that you find mundane and demotivating or dealt with tasks that you find difficult to achieve?

When making these reflections, you could rank the stressors that you would most like to minimise in your future role. The answers to these questions may have brought up issues you would like to think about further. If so, it could be worth booking a Careers Appointment using this link.

What is your personality type?

We recommend a personality test based on theories proposed by Carl Jung. It measures your preferences for dealing with and relating to people, processing information, making decisions and organising your life.

The results of this test can help you to understand:

· how your personality relates to the requirements of a particular specialty

· your potential strengths within the team

However, it should be noted that all specialties tend to have a mix of personalities within them. Therefore, your test results should always be viewed in conjunction with the results of your other self-awareness exercises.

Personality test exercise do book in for a careers guidance appointment if you would like to discuss the results.

How does your speciality choice match your lifestyle preferences?

We hope you have been able to consider your values, skills, strengths, interests and personality. These may have also helped you to establish what do you want from your future lifestyle. Here are some key lifestyle considerations when it comes to choosing speciality. 

· Consider the work and lifestyle that comes with the specialty both as a registrar and as a consultant (speak to and shadow doctors at both levels. Remember 7+ years as a registrar is a long time, and the pathway is becoming less direct with increasing LTFT, TOOT, bottlenecks, so don’t focus on becoming a consultant only, consider life as a registrar and what you want from those years too)

· Lifestyle - consider how important staying in a particular geographical area is; starting/continuing a family; support network; other academic or non-academic interests/hobbies you wish to pursue alongside work; length of training; preferred rota pattern

see next section 'What is you are unsure about your speciality preferences?'

What if you are unsure about your specialty preferences?

It is quite normal to be unsure about specialty preferences. Here are some considerations to take into account. 

· If unsure about your lifestyle preferences or considering changing mind about a specialty you’d previously been working towards that is fine - FY3 is very useful and many take this route

· Have you ruled out or ruled in specialties you don’t know very much about (e.g. lack of exposure during medical school); or have you been influenced by a particularly positive or negative experience that was not actually related to the work itself e.g. personality of a particular supervisor; perceived prestige of a speciality?

· Ask yourself what your most and least favourite specialties are currently and why?

· Consider further exploration - taster week, speaking to others, researching, FY3

· Consider type of setting

· E.g. if prefer theatre (surgery) vs ward-based (medicine) vs community (GP)

· E.g. if prefer non-ward based - anaesthetics, radiology, ophthalmology, A&E

· E.g. blend of medicine and surgery/procedures - ophthalmology, O&G

· E.g. remote working options - radiology, histopathology

· Level of emergency vs planned / controlled environment

· Generalised vs specialised / sub-specialised

Self-Awareness resources

Easy Reference Self Awareness Exercises or download the Self Awareness for Foundation Doctors workbook .

values.pdf - skills_task.pdf - preferred_skills_task.pdf - good_at_vs_enjoy_exercise.pdf - table.docx - work_preferences.pdf

Career Planning for Foundation Doctors E-Module (eLfH)

  • hosted by elfh (e-learning for healthcare)

  • includes 4 short modules to represent each of the stages in the SCAN model

  • supported by a workbook which contains many of the exercises on our website and more.

  • details of how to access these modules can be found here: Career Planning for Foundation Doctors