Last night, Dr. Bond and I participated in the medical school’s career fair. Our mission… Convince unsuspecting medical students they want to be radiation oncologists when they grow up. Or at least tell them what we do.
It is funny because everyone up until they get into med school can pretty much get away with claiming they want to be a doctor. People are satisfied with that answer for the most part. They assume you will be a generalist and drop it. However, once you get in to medicine, it is a whole other ball game. That is when people start (jokingly or not) asking you to add them to your wait list and asking about your specialty of choice (all the while assuming you can probably be their family physician too.
The thing is that most people in undergraduate medicine have no clue what kind of doctor they will be. Or if they do, they are wrong. Most people either don’t know or change their minds in the first few years.
It is fascinating to look back at the beginning of medicine and then look at what people actually become. Sure there are people who do what they say they were going to do. Others change their minds right up until the match. And still others go in swearing up and down they will be an orthopedic surgeon, a family doctor and a general surgeon and end up becoming a urologist, pediatrician and family doctor, respectively.
In a way, med school is a coming of age. Like a second undergrad where you sort out who you are and what you really want to be. Yes, medicine is a career, but there is another step within it. There are so many options, some of which you don’t even realize exist until you are in that world that the first few years of medicine are often spent learning what is available before you make a final decision.
I think it is good medicine is set up the way it is. That you learn a bit of everything before you hone in on a specialty. It helps with making an informed life decision. Plus, it makes you more well rounded.
Career fairs like the one we were at offer opportunity to ask questions and really get a grasp of what life might be like in a specific specialty from residents and doctors in the field. Although there is an element of competition (booths offering treats or prizes for visiting), there is more an element of education. The goal is to put your program out there. Make sure people know what you reall do. And yes, recruiting is always a bonus.
Many students don’t know a thing about my specialty. They always assume it is radiology or something too crazy to get involved with. In fact, 90% of them avoid our booth. We kind of stand there waiting for people to stop by like awkward kids on the wall at a dance while everyone flocks to the “cool” booths with intubation sets or baked treats (we vowed that next year we will have contouring stations and baked treats…. This is career fair war). We do have good conversations with the people who do stop. Teach them a bit about the specialty. Give them some information.
Most of the students at this fair were the Med 1s and the odd Med 2. I did see a few of the third years there. It kind of corresponds with the degree of indecisions. By this time in fourth year, CaRMS applications are just about in, so this is pretty pointless. By the time I was in second year, I gave up on these fairs because I knew where I wanted to be and they offered no new information. I wasn’t alone. But, in Med 1, this is a great place to learn more about medicine in general and line up shadowing and such.
It was interesting to talk to the students. Most of them were interested in learning more. As I said, it isn’t a very widely taught specialty. Plus, so many were unsure of their interests, it offers a good chance to suggest trying it out. Who knows? Maybe a future fellow resident was in that group. I love getting to know them and what interests them. Even if it isn’t our field, it is cool to be able to tell them about how we may interact in the future and such.
Career fairs aren’t just for high schools or undergrad students. In medicine, people need to make those decisions too. The funny thing is, most people don’t realize the process it is. But, it is really cool to be involved. And ask the hated questions about what interests them in medicine. Sometimes the answers may point them in a direction they did not know they had.
I now remember why I am glad to be done with that and working towards my field of choice. Though, in a few years fellowships and such will come up (ugh). For now, I will marvel in being in Rad Onc, just like the med students can marvel at just being in medicine.