How to Answer Secondary Prompts About Specialties

What specialty do you want to practice in the future?

This is different from the question asking where you see yourself in x years because you don’t have to be specific about your specialty in that question, although you may bring it up if you want. 

This secondary essay question is asking specifically about your future medical specialty. How should you go about discussing that?

Match what you’re saying with what you’re doing.

Be careful about what your extracurricular activities are saying about your future specialty versus what you’re writing in your secondary essays.

This is something you need to remember with every secondary essay prompt you receive.

You have to make sure that your actions and your experiences in your primary application are matching with what you’re saying here.

For instance, you’ve done dermatology research and you’ve shadowed 10 dermatologists and you’ve worked in a dermatology clinic. Then don’t come in and say you’re most interested in primary care.

From the reader’s perspective, this looks like you’re maybe fibbing a bit to try to match the school’s mission because they’re more primary care driven.

Be honest about the specialty you really want to pursue.

It’s okay to say you’re interested in dermatology if that’s what you’re really interested in. If the school turns you down because they’re focused on primary care, then that’s totally fine.

You want to feel supported as you go through medical school to practice the specialty you hopefully want to practice. 

If there are not any dermatologists in the area where you’re going to school because you’re in a more rural environment where there’s a lack of dermatologists, you’re not going to be supported there anyway. 

You want to be open and honest about what your aspirations are. That way, you can find a medical school that is really the right fit for you.

So be honest about what specialties most interest you, so the school can be honest, too, about whether their school is a good fit for pursuing that path.

Be specific about your interests.

For instance, mention that you want to be a dermatologist because you suffered from acne as a kid and you want to help patients in similar situations.

Mention that you want to be in neuroscience and neurology because your grandma or grandpa suffered from Alzheimer’s as you were growing up. 

Giving those stories will make your reasons come to life a lot more and sound a lot more informed and purposeful. It’s not very compelling if your reason to pursue a specialty is due to the salary.

So go into the story behind what compelled you to become interested in your potential future specialty. Convey why that means so much to you.

It’s okay to not know what specialty you’re interested in.

If your extracurricular activities don’t suggest that you’re hyper-focused on one specialty, then it’s okay to say you don’t know. 

You can say you’re interested in going to medical school to become a physician and you have your eyes wide open to every specialty you’re going to be exposed to.

Not knowing which specialty you want is not a mark off. Most students don’t know what kind of medicine they want to practice later on.

Interestingly, 75% of the students who come into medical school knowing they want to practice a specific specialty actually change their mind!

Only 25% of students coming into medical school knowing they want to practice a specific specialty actually end up practicing that specialty. 

So it’s okay to say you don’t know in your secondary essays. In a lot of cases, it’s a more realistic answer.

So whatever your answer is, be honest and be specific. Share real stories and your real reasons.