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Stage 2: Helping the trainee with career exploration

The key task for you at this stage is to encourage the student/trainee to conduct a thorough, systematic exploration of different career options that might interest them before they make any final decisions.

At the outset, it can be helpful to remind them of the following.

  • Career exploration takes time. If they want to end up with a robust career decision, they need to start early enough and devote sufficient time to the task.
  • Career exploration doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Instead, just as pointers you hear while taking a patient history will lead you to carry out certain clinical examinations, factors the student/trainee comes to realise about themselves from the self-assessment phase should influence the particular questions they research in the career exploration phase.
  • Career exploration can start with written materials (books, articles and the Web) but needs to extend beyond this, to talking to people who are currently working in the particular specialty the trainee thinks they might want to pursue
  • Even if they think they know what they want to do post-foundation, they still need to go through the career exploration phase. This is because being able to articulate their particular skills, abilities, interests, etc., from Stage 1 and then linking this systematically with the demands of a particular specialty (Stage 2) forms the basis of providing solid answers on written application forms, or at interview.

Where your trainee can get information

As a starting point, they can look at:

  • deanery and Royal College websites
  • BMJ Careers, which contains articles on all the different specialties, and on a variety of other relevant career issues affecting doctors
  • medical career guides.

Beyond this initial reading, you want to encourage your students/trainees to talk to at least two people who are currently working in that specialty before they make any major career decisions. Moreover, they shouldn’t just have a random chat with these people; instead they should plan what specific questions they wish to pose, based on their understanding of the personal factors that are key for them in a career (i.e. based on their Stage 1 self-assessment activities).

You can also encourage your students/trainees to look at the key journals in their area of interest and spend some time looking through recent issues. Remind them that many of the articles will be too specialised, but they can still look at the journals and ask themselves whether they are gripped and intrigued by the articles, or whether they leave them somewhat cold.


Undoubtedly the best way to find out if you are suited to a particular career option is to try it out. Medical students have options such as electives or special study modules, which may provide opportunities for exploring career options in subspecialties and different clinical or laboratory settings, and for extending a placement in an area in which they have already worked. Some trainees will be able to try out a career option, as they will be applying for an option they worked in during one of their foundation placements. But if this wasn’t possible (either because there are no foundation placements in that specialty, or because the trainee didn’t succeed in getting that particular placement) then they should try to arrange a ‘taster’ week. And if that fails, then in your role of educational supervisor you need to encourage the trainee to talk to as many people as possible in that specialty and complete the Stage 1 and Stage 2 activities as carefully as possible, to maximise the chances that they are making a robust decision.

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