Off the beaten path

by Matthew Forbes

Taking up the first specialist doctor role in Northern Ireland has allowed Matthew Forbes to explore a career path that makes the most of his professional strengths and interests

Location: Northern Ireland
Published: Monday 10 October 2022
Matthew Forbes

No medical career is ever linear and my own is no exception.

Once I graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2008, I went on to complete my foundation training in North West Thames in London where I found I enjoyed a number of different specialties but no one area jumped out. As a result, I decided to apply to general practice, if I’m honest, as a way of keeping my options open.

This would prove a difficult path for whilst no one specialty felt ‘special’ enough to pursue, the isolation of general practice would prove challenging for an extroverted team player such as myself.

In addition, treating undifferentiated illness comes with lots of uncertainty and spans the entire spectrum of medicine which was hard for a self-confessed detail-focused perfectionist who likes to hone their skill.

Nevertheless, after finishing my GP training at Northumbria in 2013, I was appointed as a GP partner in a well-run desirable training practice. However, my personality missed the cut and thrust of the hospital and I only lasted six months. 

Disoriented and confused, I worked as a trauma clinical Fellow in emergency medicine, followed by a trust job in obstetrics and gynaecology. I then applied for a standalone locum position in ops and gynae training and returned to Belfast in 2015.

During this training year, I successfully applied for a position as a forensic medical examiner at a sexual assault referral centre. As it required two years of post-foundation training experience in a specialty training scheme or as a general practitioner, I felt it would be a good fit for both my experience as a GP and my O&G experience. 

It was an emotionally demanding role at times, as you would expect, yet it has allowed me to specialise within a field of medicine that provides great professional satisfaction through working closely with police colleagues, nursing staff, and doctors from various specialties.

This year I was recruited as a specialist grade forensic medical officer under the new specialist doctor contract, working two days a week at my local sexual assault referral centre. This has given me secure trust employment with the added benefits of the new contract. 

Working in this role while also working as a GP has given me career balance and flexibility. It has enabled me to schedule my work around my family life, and the various roles allow me to tailor my job to my skill set. 

If you had asked me at the end of foundation training what I planned to do in 10 years, I would not have for one moment imagined my current career. On the other hand, taking a different route and venturing off the beaten path allows you to discover areas of medicine that may be better suited to your gifts, abilities, and desire for a work-life balance.


Matthew Forbes is a specialist grade forensic medical officer and a GP working in the Northern Ireland health service