Career Planning Advice

Explore your Options

Explore your Options is phase two of our 4-phase career planning process. You can work on this step at any time, but Med1 and Med2 is a great time to start this.  

You might be wondering: What are all the specialties I could potentially enter? What kind of different practice settings are there? What’s the difference between an academic and a community practice? What are the work-life balance realities in some of the specialties? 

You can use the results of some of your self assessments and reflections from Understanding Yourself to help guide your exploration. You can always feel free to re-take these self-assessments to see how or whether your results have changed, and what you’ve learned about yourself in the process. 

Essentially, this phase (Explore your Options), when combined with phase 1 (Understanding Yourself) aims to help you find your best fit in a career in medicine: that which combines your interests, values, and talents in a way that you find meaningful and rewarding. 

Suggestions for exploring options include: 

  • Reading about specialties, or listening to/watching interviews with physicians - have a look at our External Resources section

  • Shadowing / Observing 

  • Career conversations 

  • ...and more (see the menu on the left) 

While exploring your options, suggestions for reflection include:

  1. Resist the temptation to focus on a perfect specialty and instead take steps back to broaden your perspective.
  2. Reflect on your skills, values, and interests.
  3. During your clinical activities, take note of what attracts you and what repels you.
  4. Keep a journal or log during your clinical experience, and jot down a few brief notes each day or week. Ideas include: 

    •  “highlights” and “lowlights”, e.g. something you really enjoyed and something you really didn’t enjoy). 

    • What did you learn about yourself in these experiences?  

    • What surprised you? 

  5. Read over these journal entries, and look for patterns. 

Other factors to consider while exploring may include:  

  • Inpatient or outpatient care 

  • Different age groups, genders, or other population characteristics  

  • Diagnosis or procedures 

  • Breadth rather than depth (I.e. generalism vs specialization) 

  • Short-term, long-term, or continuing care in patient relationships 

  • Direct or indirect communication with the patient 

These activities help to build a base for phase 3 of the 4-phase career planning process: Choosing your Specialty


Adaptation from Pokorny, A. Finding the right specialty. from Careers in Medicine 2022.

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