In the second part of our interview, Sonia Hutton-Taylor, founder of Medical Forum, talks psychometric tests and advice for doctors making a career change.

Read part 1

Q: Your work book helps doctors identify their skills – including presumably skills which could be of value whether they decide to continue in medicine or pursue an alternative career. Do you find there are skills doctors often have but don’t realize it?

A: This is probably true for everyone, not just doctors. Doctors are very good at underselling themselves. Modesty is a nice trait but almost everyone I see has underestimated some skill area they have, which could be exceptional but which they may not have crystallized in words and are thus unable to explain at interview. Often supervisors don’t have the time to go into this depth during appraisals.

For instance, I helped a young woman doctor who had been off sick for a while. As a result her confidence had become very low. However, career review showed exceptional leadership skills which had been missed in recent posts because, as a result of her being off sick, she had come to be seen as a weak link in the chain. By alerting her to her past leadership successes and helping her sell herself better, the label she had been given was reversed.

I also helped someone who had particularly good analytical skills, but the way he was using them was upsetting people because it wasn’t very constructive. I pointed out that he could be a fantastic resource, rather than a thorn in everyone’s side, if he were to modify the way the skill was used. This made a big difference

Q: What is a psychometric test?

A: There is a huge range of them, but the one most people refer to is the Personality Test. Generally this consists of a series of questions e.g. a forced choice, A or B; what would you most like, going on gut instinct. This is then subject to computer analysis, printed out and the analysis talked through with you to help you interpret the findings

Q: Do you use them?

A: They are often used in commercial recruitment settings but aren’t necessarily a good predictor of success in post. However, there is value in having one done for yourself as one of the 16 career factors is personality – provided you’re not feeling stressed or distressed at the time, as this can distort the results.

At Medical Forum we don’t use psychometric tests as we don’t want to overemphasise personality. We believe all 16 Career factors need to be looked into, even if some will be weighted differently in practice.

Q: Should a doctor consider having one done?

A: There are free personality tests available on the internet. They aren’t as full as a proper Myers-Briggs test, plus feedback from a psychologist. That would cost several hundred pounds. However, they are a useful introduction.

It would be nice if these could be provided for medical students, as this would sow the seeds of insight at an earlier age. I did one at 28 but wish I’d had the opportunity at 18. It also doesn’t hurt to repeat them every few years.

Q: Are there any wrong reasons for choosing a career route?

A: Yes, choosing a career route

  • to please other people
  • because other people you know have done it
  • because you don’t know what else to do and haven’t researched the options
  • because you did an attachment and really liked the person you worked for and they were an inspiration for you.

In these cases you may end up making the right career choice, but perhaps by accident rather than design. It is important to make your decision on sound evidence.

Q: Are there any factors affecting career choices for doctors we haven’t discussed so far, but which you think are important?

A: Manpower planning crises seem to happen every 5-7 years in medicine. Either too few doctors are being trained and they end up working ridiculous hours, or too many are being produced and there aren’t enough training places, as with MTAS in 2007. Each of these seems to eventually settle down, until the next medical manpower crisis, which could be a general crisis or a crisis in a particular specialty (as with Obs & Gynae a few years ago)

Q: Have you noticed any changes in the type of doctor seeking your help in recent years?

A: It has always been very broad – from medical students to senior consultants and GPs, with a wide range of reasons why people get in touch.

At the end of the day, all career issues are ultimately individual, even when big changes like MTAS come along, so it is important to take each individual on their own merits.

Individuals as such haven’t changed. The reasons for approaching Medical Forum are just as varied now as they have ever been.

Three people might say “MTAS has left me without a job,” but when I see them there might be three different reasons why they haven’t got the job they wanted.

Q: Have you seen any changes in the type of help they are seeking?

A: What people have always wanted and still want, is a clear way forward. Not a magic answer, but simply a clear way to generate options, research options and move forward. The best thing Medical Forum offers is a structured way to move forward from the position you’re feeling stuck in at the moment.

Q: What would your top three tips be for a doctor wanting to make a successful career change?

A: First, question why you’re wanting to change. What is that you’ve done before that’s got you to where you don’t want to be? Look backwards.

Second, look at your current situation to clarify exactly what you’re feeling at the moment and why. Look at where you are now.

Third, try to look forward to general things you want from life, then you can consider what career will help you get the life you want. If you’re clear what you want out of life, then you can pursue a career that will help you get the life you want. What you need is an appropriate vehicle in which to travel.

As work makes up such a large part of one’s life, it is vital that some considerable time and effort goes into planning a career, to ensure that the career vehicle is and remains the right vehicle for you. This means more planning than e.g. your research project, buying a car and organising a holiday. These are all short term things that many people spend huge amounts of time upon, yet when we ask them how much time they have spent on career planning (a project that could last 45 years!) many look a bit blank or shocked.

Quite a useful concept to keep in mind is this: careers are vehicles. They are not life itself.

Sonia Hutton-Taylor is the founder of Medical Forum