What it Means to Be on the Fence

By | August 9, 2014

fenceBeing on the fence simply means being unable to make a decision about something. This often occurs when trying to decide which specialty to pursue. Choosing a specialty can be very stressful for many medical students due to the lack of time allotted for making this decision before applications are due. First and second year of medical school are filled with tests and book study, while third year is reserved for core rotations. This means there may only be one or two months of your entire medical education available for elective rotations before applications are due. How is one supposed to make a life-altering decision like this without the appropriate experiences to help guide you to the correct choice?

One important way to help make this decision easier is to increase the amount of experiences under your belt beforehand. We call this closing the gap. There are a multitude of ways to accomplish this, but one way we like is to shadow physicians in the specialties you are interested in. You can do this at any point during medical school, which makes it pretty convenient. However, a word of caution here: Be sure to get at least two different experiences in each specialty you are interested in. This is extremely important because there is more than one way to practice medicine within each field. You want exposure to this variety in order to properly evaluate what your future may look like if you were to go into that field. Think long term. It is your career, after all.

Here is an excellent example to illustrate this last point. I once met a physician who told me his story. As a medical student he had considered going into dermatology, but the one experience he had at the time he disliked very much. As a result, he ended up going into internal medicine and became the chief resident of his program. While chief, he ended up doing another rotation in dermatology, but this experience was quite different from his first. He absolutely loved it. So much so, in fact, that he ended up doing a second residency in dermatology! He missed out because he based his specialty choice on a single experience. Hopefully you can gain enough experience to choose the right residency the first time around so this doesn’t happen to you. Now good luck getting off the fence.