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Choosing a specialty

The experiences you have and the professionals you encounter during your house officer runs will influence your eventual choice of career. Some people are able to make their decisions early on the basis of these experiences, but for many the decision is not straightforward. 

This section gives you a guide to understanding more about who you are and what is important to you.

Choosing a specialty is a three step process.

Step 1 – Understand yourself first

Understanding more about yourself and what is important to you is a good place to start when considering a specialty.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why did I choose medicine in the first place?
  • What are my interests, values and beliefs?
  • What motivates me to do my best work?
  • In thinking about three or four accomplishments from the past, what has given me the greatest satisfaction?
  • What are my strengths and limitations?
  • What prevents me from getting what I want out of my working life?
  • What are my strongest skills and which skills do I enjoy using?
  • What kind of balance do I want to achieve in using these skills?
  • Who do I consider to be my role model or mentor? Why?
  • How well does a particular speciality fit with who I think I am?

Career exploration

  • What geographical preferences or restrictions do I have?
  • What type of work environment do I prefer to be in? 
  • What kind of relationship do I want to have with my patients?
  • What sorts of colleagues do I want to work with?
  • What style of work suits me best?
  • What salary can I expect in this specialty or field?


  • What kind of lifestyle do I expect as a doctor in the short or long term?
  • What do I want to get out of my job and my career?
  • What other goals do I have apart from career goals?
  • What does 'success' mean to me? How will I know when I’ve achieved it?

These are important questions to ask yourself and the answers are going to be different for everyone and will depend on the relative importance / priority of each question as it affects you. Think about and prioritise your answers into what is most important to you now and what you think may be important to you in the future. There are techniques for doing this and the best selling book "What Color Is Your Parachute" by Richard Bolles is recommended for further reading and will provide information and guidance on how to prioritise some of these important questions and answers.

Step 2 – Explore options

  • Find out more about the specialties on offer from some of the people working in the field. We asked over 100 specialists and some trainees to tell us what it’s really like at the coalface and we have included their comments in each specialty.
  • You can also check out other important factors like workforce and income for each specialty.

Step 3 – Put it all together: applying for a job or training position 

Having considered your personal profile as well as some of the specialty information, you may now be ready to apply to a a training programme. For most training positions you will need: 

  • a great curriculum vitae (CV) – this is not the time to be coy about your achievements!
  • references
  • to read some interview tips from previous candidates and senior doctor interviewers
  • an interview by a vocational training or appointments committee.

What's right for you now may change over the duration of your medical career

Choosing a particular career direction is not a one-off decision. Many people shift direction several times during their lifetime. Others choose to have multiple jobs, balancing their needs and interests around several roles. However, each time you reach a career crossroads you need to ask yourself some of the questions, outlined above, again. What is right for you in your 20s may not necessarily be right for you in your 30s or 40s, since personal circumstances can change, specialties develop in various directions and new opportunities arise. 

As you go through the Career Med pages, you will see that many contributors have offered a range of perspectives about their specialty that indicate why they made their career decisions. Some have always known or had a fairly good idea of where they would end up. Others have started on a general path and gradually tended towards their eventual chosen area (or tended away from areas they disliked). Some were struck by a flash of inspiration.

However you go about making your decision and wherever you are on your career continuum, it is always useful to regularly re-evaluate who you are and what you want out of your job/specialty.

Contact Te Whatu Ora | Te Toka Tumai Auckland about training:

Level 15 Support Building,
Auckland City Hospital
Phone 09 307 4949 ext 23209