Navigating doubts, challenges and burnout in your medical career path

How to address these challenges in a thoughtful manner

Deciding on a medical specialty is an exciting milestone, and being accepted into a training program is even more exhilarating. However, as exams approach, the demands for overtime can become relentless, and on-call shifts drain your energy - the initial thrill might begin to wear off. The reality of the remaining journey to fellowship can seem daunting. At such times, you may start to doubt whether your chosen specialty is truly the right fit. Dr Ashe Coxon shares how and why it’s important to address these doubts with patience and understanding. 

Exam blues and pre-fellowship challenges 

As exams loom and the pressures of pre-fellowship intensify, it’s not uncommon for doctors to question their specialty choices. Exhaustion can set in, leading to cynicism towards the chosen field, and some may even contemplate changing pathways. While a change in specialty might be a viable option for some, it’s crucial to seek guidance before making significant decisions. Trusted colleagues, mentors, psychologists, career counsellors, and support people can provide valuable insights during this introspective phase.  

Key considerations when doubts arise 

  1. Recognising burnout: Burnout is a prevalent concern in the medical profession. Symptoms like emotional exhaustion, cynicism and reduced professional efficacy may indicate burnout. Recognising these signs is vital for seeking appropriate support from friends, colleagues, supervisors or professionals. 
  2. Taking breaks: Everyone, including doctors, needs holidays. Working tirelessly without breaks can lead to burnout. Taking time off for self-care, recuperation, and spending time with loved ones is essential for long-term wellbeing. 
  3. Identifying the source of discontent: Before contemplating a career change, it’s important to pinpoint what aspects of your current role are causing dissatisfaction. It could be administrative tasks, exams, roster issues, or other factors. Reflect on whether these issues are temporary or pervasive. 
  4. Visualising the future: Speaking to experienced doctors who have already completed their fellowships can provide insights into the potential benefits of perseverance. Understanding what lies ahead after obtaining your fellowship can offer a fresh perspective on your current challenges.  
  5. Aligning with core values: Reflect on your core values and whether your current career aligns with them. Identifying and satisfying your values can contribute to a greater sense of contentment. 
  6. Balancing life outside medicine: Engaging in hobbies, spending time with loved ones, and pursuing activities outside of medicine can provide a much-needed balance to your life and contributes to overall happiness. 
  7. Seeking support: If doubts persist, don’t hesitate to seek support from trusted individuals, such as family, friends, mentors or professional counsellors. Independent perspectives can help you gain clarity. 

Embracing doubts as opportunities to grow 

It’s normal for doubts to arise at various points in your medical career. These moments of uncertainty can serve as important checkpoints for introspection and growth. While doubts can be unsettling, they can also offer valuable insights into your true aspirations and concerns. By addressing doubts head-on and seeking guidance from those who understand your journey, you can make informed decisions that align with your passions and values. 

Dr Ashe emphasises that the journey of becoming a doctor is a long and evolving one. It’s okay to reassess your choices to seek ways to find fulfillment within your chosen specialty. Whether you’re grappling with fleeting thoughts or significant concerns, reaching out for support is a sign of strength, and it can lead you towards a more satisfying and meaningful medical career. 

This article was originally published here. You can also join Dr Coxon in an interactive career planning workshop that offers invaluable guidance for health professionals navigating through their career. You can view the details for the next upcoming workshop here. 

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