From the moment you enter medical school, you will be asked, “What specialty are you most interested in?” Many medical students struggle with their answer to this question. Determining your specialty, the specific area of medicine in which you intend to practice, is the most important step in your career – and no easy task. Medical students in their third and fourth years go through clinical rotations, which essentially provide snapshots of various areas of medicine. This is usually the best time to cultivate your interests and start narrowing your specialty choices in preparation for applying to residency programs.
It is important to note that there is no ranking or listing of “best medical specialties” – specialty choice is a very personal decision that depends on a number of factors, which include:
- Aspirations: What were your reasons for becoming a doctor? Are these motives still relevant?
- Daily schedule: Would you prefer to concentrate on patient visits, surgical procedures, or a combination of both?
- Flexibility and balance: How much time do you hope to have for vacation, family time, etc.?
- Income: What is your goal in terms of income? How quickly do you want to pay off your student loans?
- Personality traits: Do you enjoy frequent interactions with people, or do you prefer more “behind the scenes” work?
- Practice setting: Do you have a preference for community, academic or hospital settings?
- Talent and ability: During medical school, have you displayed an uncanny knack for a particular aspect of medical care?
You will want to consider the various aspects of specialties – and talk to physicians in all types of practices – to determine your best fit. Students who choose family medicine, for instance, do so because:
- They appreciate being an integral part of the nation’s health care system as a primary care physician.
- They enjoy the full spectrum of care in having patients of all ages.
- They find they can relate to people and want to develop long-term relationships with patients.
- They enjoy a mix of seeing patients in community settings, performing procedures in-office, delivering babies, and holding in-depth patient consultations.
Very few medical students entering medical school know exactly what their area of specialty will be. Even those who do often change their mind once they start clinical rotations. Often times, doing a preceptorship between your first and second year of school, or finding a mentor in a particular specialty that may interests you, is the best way to start down the path of choosing your specialty.
Watch this video to learn about the biggest decision students make during medical school – specialty choice.
- Careers in Medicine(www.aamc.org)
- Medical Specialty Aptitude Test(www.med-ed.virginia.edu)
- Iserson's Getting Into a Residency(www.galenpress.com)
- Choosing Your Medical Specialty(www.ama-assn.org)
- National Medical Specialty Societies(www.ama-assn.org)