What do I want to do when I “grow up”?

by Lorien E. Menhennett

In a recent comment on my blog, someone posed a question to me. She asked whether I have a specialty in mind for the future. It’s a common question for medical students. So I’m used to fielding it. I think it’s worth explaining my thought process here.

The short answer is that I don’t really know what I want to do when I “grow up.” I’ll become a doctor of course, but what kind of doctor? I’m not sure yet. I think that’s the case for most medical students at my stage, pre-clerkships. We haven’t had real exposure to what doctoring is like. We’ve all shadowed various physicians, sure, and spent some time in the hospital practicing our physical exam and history-taking skills. But we’ve never been a true part of the medical team.

And that’s what clerkships are about. They’re an introduction to several medical specialties, a chance to try on the different branches of medicine, to see which one fits best. In order of my own rotations that start Feb. 13: ob/gyn, primary care (adult outpatient medicine), psychiatry, surgery, anesthesiology/critical care, neurology, internal medicine (adult inpatient medicine), and pediatrics. During clerkships at Cornell, we also get a 2-week elective block where we can try a field not represented in this list.

Part of choosing a specialty is finding the kind of medicine that interests you most. This is pretty obvious. Do you want a procedure-based specialty like general surgery or urology? Which patient population do you want to work with — kids, adults, pregnant women? Clerkships are designed to help answer questions like these.

I’ve also heard that part of choosing a specialty involves finding your kind of people. I’ve been told that different fields attract different personalities. Finding the right fit means finding where you fit in.

Clerkships still lie ahead of me. So I’m decidedly undecided at this point. My goal in the next year is to remain open minded. And there is so much overlap between the different specialties that no matter what I choose, having some experience with the other fields will benefit me — and my patients.

That’s my attitude. I hope that approaching clerkships this way will help me learn the most from each one.