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Tips on How to Choose a Specialty
You also should ask faculty for recommendations and introductions to physicians who have similar interests. Take advantage of opportunities to meet with physicians from various specialties, perhaps at events or meetings sponsored by your school (i.e., career days, hospital fairs). Often, local medical societies or specialty societies have meetings that are open to students. Organizations such as the American Academy of Family Physicians and American Academy of Pediatrics give medical students the opportunity to join as members.
National meetings, such as the AAFP sponsored National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students are also valuable sources for information about specialty choice. Attend meetings hosted by student organizations and interest groups at your school. You also can address career issues with the American Medical Association-Medical Student Section (AMAMSS), American Medical Student Association (AMSA), Family Medicine Interest Groups (FMIG), the Organization of Student Representatives, Association of American Medical Colleges (OSRAAMC), or the Student National Medical Association (SNMA).
Using elective time to explore specialty options can be extremely helpful, particularly if you want more exposure to certain specialties. You can choose an elective within your own institution or you can choose an outside elective or clerkship. You can arrange a clerkships either with private physicians in the community or at another teaching institution. The clerkship can be purely clinical or have a component of research or community outreach. Ask your medical school advisor or student affairs office for information about locally available clerkship opportunities. Or contact your local medical specialty society, national medical specialty societies, Area Health Education Center or other teaching institutions (medical school departments or residency programs) for information about clerkships. Go to the AAFP Family Medicine Clerkship / Preceptorship Directory Web page for a directory of clerkships and electives in family medicine and related clinical areas.
We strongly advise that you begin planning your electives as early as possible. Though your school’s curriculum may not permit you to take elective time until your fourth year, careful planning will let you assess your specialty options before you begin the process of residency selection.
The following references and list of organizations may be useful. Several publications regularly feature articles on career selection, trends in specialties,and changes in the types and numbers of residency positions.
Keep in mind that many sources may present biased information. Generally, you can resolve questions and concerns by looking for common themes, then outlining pros and cons. Only you know what is right for you, and no amount of information from a single source should determine your choice. So try to get information from as many different sources as possible: student colleagues, senior medical students, residents, faculty advisors, department chairs, physicians in private practice, relatives, friends and medical organizations.
Avoid making assumptions; develop a broad and well-balanced picture of the specialty you’re considering. As with every other major decision in your life, making this decision may come with a certain amount of doubt. But, if you’ve approached the process with a willingness to look at yourself honestly and if you’ve tried to get the best available information, you can trust that your decision will be a good one.