Intended for healthcare professionals


What I wish I had known as a junior doctor

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 19 October 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5537
  1. Victoria Allen, core medical trainee1,
  2. Osman Hussain, core psychiatry trainee2
  1. 1Royal Brompton Hospital, London
  1. victoria.b.c.allen{at}
  1. 2Maudsley Hospital, London


Victoria Allen and Osman Hussain asked senior doctors what one piece of career advice they would give a junior doctor today.

In the dispiriting atmosphere surrounding the junior doctor contact negotiations it can be hard to remember what inspired us to become doctors all those years ago. But there was a time when most of us were desperate for a medical school place, hugely excited to step on to the wards for the first time, and so proud when we finally earned the right to call ourselves a doctor. With this in mind we asked GPs and consultants from various specialties what one piece of career advice they would give to a junior today in order to offer some much needed inspiration.

  • Clare Gerada, GP partner, Hurley Group: “Surround yourself with enthusiasts.”

  • Lucy Cogswell, consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust: “I love the job and it’s a huge privilege to operate on people and to work with them during such profound moments in their lives. I’d do it if I wasn’t paid too; there’s really nothing else like it. My best advice: work hard; play harder; try everything you want to; and do something you love.”

  • Medha Vanarase, consultant anaesthetist, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust: “There are plenty of opportunities in management, training, and research; plan, prepare and make a positive change.”

  • Patrick Roberts, emergency medicine consultant, Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust: “If your personality suits working in a team, choose a job with a team. Sometimes the right career isn’t about the specialty. You need your personality to suit the environment.”

  • Andrew Brent, consultant in infectious diseases and general medicine, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust: “The most important thing is to care about your patients; if one genuinely cares about their wellbeing, most other things follow automatically—including professional and personal satisfaction. Finally, enjoy medicine. It is a tremendous privilege.”

  • Neil Paul, GP partner, Ashfields Primary Care Centre, Sandbach, Cheshire: “Don’t become isolated. Try to find a senior mentor and peer support. Mentor and support others in turn. Develop and empower your team—having the right people around you will make you productive, successful, and happy.”

  • Hannah Skene, consultant acute physician, Chelsea and Westminster Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust: “Pick a specialty you love, one where you can see your career developing in different ways. Remember that working in a specialty as a junior doctor is often different to what it’s like to work in it as a consultant.”

  • Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists: “You may not realise it at the moment but the friends you make now in your junior years will be with you for life. It’s they who support you—and no amount of role models, consultants, coaches, mentors, supervisors, and so on can ever, or should ever, replace that.”

  • Dave Moore, consultant in infectious diseases and tropical medicine, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: “I’ve yet to meet any UK doctor who regrets spending time working overseas. There is no rush to get to that final position, whether as a hospital consultant or a GP—you’re in that post for a long time. So do it—it will be personally and professionally challenging, and enriching beyond your imagination.”

  • Robin Murray, professor of psychiatric research, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience, King’s College: “As we learn more and more about neuroscience and social science, psychiatry is poised to become by far the most interesting specialty open to young doctors. So my advice is: don’t bury yourself in understanding the heart or kidneys, instead, step up to the exciting challenge of understanding how the brain processes the social environment.”


  • Competing interests: Both authors are practising junior doctors in UK training posts. We declare that we have no other conflicting interests.