How to Choose a Medical Specialty

Many students feel that the decision about specialty choice is one they are forced to make too soon and on too little information. So, how do you evaluate specialties and determine which is the right fit for you?

Research Your Medical Specialty Options

Most specialties' websites are valuable sources of information about manpower trends, specialty board information and medical issues related to the specialty. Many also provide information about residency programs or provide a list of links to residency training programs.

Talk to People

Current residents are great sources for information about what training is really like. Physicians currently practicing in the specialty can also be helpful, particularly if they are willing to put you in touch with colleagues who help train residents.

Assess Your Own Competitiveness for the Specialty

An honest review of your academic performance in medical school, licensing exam scores and clinically related credentials is critical to making a decision about specialty choice. Specialties that are very popular will be harder to get into, and residency programs in desirable locations will be competitive even in the less sought-after specialties.

While it's important to go after a position in a field you really want, it is also important to be realistic in assessing how you will match up against others who will be applying for positions in the same field or program. This is especially true for International Medical Graduates. Ultimately, you may have to make some compromises based on an ordering of the factors that are most important to you. Seek out individuals who can assess your credentials and give you honest feedback about your competitiveness as a residency applicant (medical school deans, residency program staff, current residents).

What Will Your Daily Routine Be?

Each specialty has a unique set of demands and challenges. You might find it helpful to make a list of the things you want to do, such as using medical technology, hands-on procedures, patient education and counseling, dealing with patients over a long span of time, etc. Compare your list to the descriptions of the specialties to see what fields best overlap your list. You may find that a specialty you never considered offers more of what you want to do daily than the specialties you were initially inclined to pursue. Consider the employment trends for the specialty. Will the US need more or fewer doctors in the field five or ten years out? This will impact your satisfaction level down the road.

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