• Choosing a Medical Specialty

    From the moment you enter medical school, you will be asked, “What specialty are you most interested in?”  Determining your specialty – the specific area of medicine in which you intend to practice – is the most important step in your career. Yet it’s no easy task.

    In your third and fourth years of medical school, you will go through clinical rotations, which provide you with experience in various areas of medicine. This is usually the best time to explore your interests and begin to narrow your specialty choices before you apply to residency programs. To make the best decision, you’ll need to know both the ins and outs of the specialty you’re considering, and know what you want from your career.

    Find Your Fit in Family Medicine

    In the increasingly fragmented world of health care, one thing remains constant: family physicians are dedicated to treating the whole person. Unlike other specialties that are limited to a particular organ or disease, family medicine integrates care for patients of all genders and every age, and advocates for the patient in a complex health care system.

    Family medicine is for you if you want:

    • Training in a wide range of medical subspecialties
    • To deliver comprehensive acute, chronic, and preventive medical care services
    • An ongoing, personal relationship with your patients
    • A variety of career paths and options

    Know What You Want

    Once you have identified what specialty you’re interested in, consider how that specialty aligns with your personal and professional desires, needs, and goals.

    To get clarity on what it is that you want for your medical career, reflect on the questions below. Answering these questions honestly takes a great deal of maturity and insight. It can be helpful to seek feedback from people who know you personally and professionally. Mentors are a good resource.


    • What were your original goals when you decided to become a physician?
    • Have your goals changed during medical school? If so, how?

    Professional Values

    • What do you value about the role of a physician? Consider things like intellectual challenge, the ability to help others, the respect it commands from others, the security of the lifestyle, the luxury of the lifestyle, or the ability to work autonomously.
    • Which aspects do you value the most?

    Doctor-Patient Relationship

    • What type of doctor-patient relationships do you find the most rewarding?
    • Are there particular clinical situations or types of patient encounters that make you uncomfortable or for which you feel unsuited?

    Daily Schedule

    • Would you prefer to concentrate on patient visits, surgical procedures, or a combination of both?

    Lifestyle & Income

    • What pace of life do you envision for yourself (time for family, time for other interests, vacation, etc.)?
    • What is your goal in terms of income? How quickly do you want to pay off your student loans?

    Practice Setting

    • In what type of community do you see yourself practicing? What type of clinical setting?
    • Do you have a preference for community, academic or hospital settings?

    Skills & Personality

    • During medical school, have you displayed an uncanny knack for a particular aspect of medical care?
    • What skills (interpersonal, analytical, technical, etc.) do you value the most in yourself, and how do they affect your perception of the specialty or specialties to which your abilities are best suited?

    Residency Training Requirements

    • How long is the required training for the specialty?
    • What does residency training prepare you to do?
    • How many residency positions are available?
    • What are the differences between training programs within the same specialty (e.g., geographic or institutional differences)?
    • What potential is there for further training following residency (e.g., subspecialty training or fellowships)?

    Overall Outlook

    • What practice opportunities are available (e.g., demand for physicians, competition for patients or practice sites)?
    • What current trends or recent changes in practice patterns impact the specialty (e.g., cost of professional liability insurance, changes in Medicare reimbursement policies, healthcare legislation)?
    • What are the foreseeable additions to the repertoire of the specialty (e.g., new models of practice, new technologies, new drugs, new techniques)?