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Medical Specialties From a Student's Experience

Luciali72x721Lucia Li -- "Medicine is learnt at the bedside."

The grass, in the case of medical education, probably is greener on the other side. As students, we don’t have to do evil paperwork. But then we don’t have the inconvenience of being paid, either… Already through my attachments, I have been surprised (both pleasantly and unpleasantly) by the difference between my expectations of different specialties and reality. At the same time, I know that specialties are very different for a doctor than they are for students.

What makes a good attachment for students? For me, it’s nothing too miserable, staffed by good people who like to teach, well-organized, coherent patients… oh, and time off to pursue student-like activities.

Here are my winners and losers of specialties to be in as a student.

The losers:

Oncology – My housemate, currently doing this attachment, informs me that she had never really experienced true vicarious depression until this time. We’re taught to be empathetic in our clinical communication skill courses and to say such helpful sentences as "I understand" and "I can see that must have been difficult for you." But, when you can do nothing as a student but say such platitudes, your own ineffectiveness and inability to help is blindingly apparent.

Care of the Elderly – It has to be said, this specialty is generally staffed by the most jolly and eccentric of doctors. The bow-tie wearing and ancient Greek-quoting kind. However, whilst there were some real gems, it was very frustrating to see what is essentially social care carried out by doctors because there was no one and nothing else.

The winners:

Orthopedics – In our hospital, all the orthopedic surgeons are happy. Seriously happy. Not just your average, I’m-contented happy. But a proper, I-love-getting-up-in-the-mornings happy. And their specialty involves cool toys and gruesome operations that students can really get involved in. However, what really sealed it for me was probably the CD they played when we were in theatre; anyone who plays the best of the 90s whilst screwing pins into knees has my respect.

Psychiatry – I have no aspirations whatsoever to be a psychiatrist, but this really was a fun specialty. Where else do you have patients that tell you they don’t think the world is real, or have the police involved in coaxing people out of peculiar hiding places? Plus, psychiatrists have the comfiest chairs in their offices.

I’m sure I’ll change this little ranking system as I see more specialties. But for now, I’m heading back to the land of happy people.

September 21, 2008 in Lucia Li | Permalink


I look forward to your list, Lucia. I keep coming back to how difficult to choose a specialty based on a 4-8 week attachment! In general, entire fields are populated with certain kinds of people, it's true. But it's quite difficult for me to separate a bad experience with a team from a bad feeling for the specialty...

Posted by: thomas | Sep 21, 2008 8:05:08 PM

I think being a psychiatrist is fun, u just have to 'sell your saliva' ! :)

Posted by: lifeinside | Sep 25, 2008 10:39:33 AM

LOL very much agreed on the Orthopedics one. I suggest adding General Surgery to the 'Losers' list. Most of the surgeons tend to be cranky, have acid tongues and not to mention a few give off that air of "I have better places to be than here with you, moron".

Posted by: iamtheanonymous | Oct 2, 2008 11:46:23 AM

OMG i am on my way to becoming a bow tie wearing greek couting MD in the caribbean this is going to be interesting. Looking foward to more fun lists of winners and losers!

Posted by: Samuel | Nov 28, 2008 5:58:24 PM

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