5 Tips to Help You Choose a Medical Specialty

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Session 55

How to Choose a Medical Specialty

In today’s episode, we talk about how to pick a medical specialty. We cover 5 key things that are instrumental in forming your path and choosing your specialty at whichever point of your journey you may be right now.

Whether you’re a premed or a medical student, it’s never too early to start thinking about what kind of doctor you want to be.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

When do you need to choose a medical specialty by?

It’s never too early to be thinking about what specialty you want to pursue. The very latest point at which you want to choose your medical specialty is your 4th year of medical school. This is because you need to apply for residency position when the applications open around September in your 4th year.

Data shows that many people apply to multiple specialties, suggesting maybe they did not come to a single final decision for their specialty by that time. Here are our tips to help you work toward identifying the best medical specialty for you, sooner rather than later.

  1. Always keep an open mind.

Go into every clinical rotation with an open mind. Go through your pre-clinical years with an open mind, too.

You should always keep an open mind about switching to a different specialty because your feelings can completely change once you get immersed in the field and you get exposure. The point of 3rd-year rotations is to give you some experience with different fields.

You should always keep an open mind about switching to a different specialty because your feelings can completely change once you get immersed in the field and you get exposure.Click To Tweet

Try to get as much experience as you can to cement in your mind if it’s the specialty for you. Experience is the best way to figure out the right fit for you.

Keep in mind that what you see during hospital rotations is not always what it’d look like for you to work in that field. You don’t necessarily have to practice in a hospital—you can also opt to work in a community setting.

  1. Get exposure as early as you can.

Start figuring out what you might be interested in, and try to get shadowing and clinical experience early in different specialties.

Some specialties are research-heavy. The earlier you get exposure to a field and find out you might be interested in it, the more opportunities you’re going to get and the better you can prepare yourself.

Generally, there are 5 core clinical rotations in your 3rd year of medical school:

  • Internal Medicine
  • General Surgery
  • Pediatrics
  • OB/Gyn
  • Psychiatry

Don’t wait till 3rd year to look into these specialties. Get exposed as early as you can to figure out what you want to be doing.

[Related post: 8 Things to Think About When Choosing a Specialty]

  1. Use the process of elimination.

Sometimes it’s easier to identify what you definitely don’t want to do, rather than identifying your favorite specialty from a long list of possibilities. So make a checklist of all the specialties. Cross things off as you progress through medical school.

You can also start using a process of elimination with some of the following questions.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you want to be a surgeon or a diagnostician?
  • Do you want to spend most of your time doing procedures or solving puzzles?
    • Consider your level of dexterity and spatial sense. Understand where your skills may lie.
    • It’s not a matter of merely being able to do it. Rather, you have to be a master at your craft.
  • Do you want to take care of adults or children?
    • Dealing with the child’s parents can be very challenging.
    • Med-peds is a residency where you’re trained to be able to practice and take care of both adults and children.
    • Family medicine also allows you to take care of the whole family unit.
  • Do you like generally well people or those who are critically ill?
    • Critical care medicine involves the majority of your time taking care of critically ill people.
  • Are you an adrenaline junkie?
    • If you can handle jumping from room to room with multiple patients crashing, consider being an ER physician.
  • How much patient contact do you want?
    • If you don’t want any patient interaction, consider pathology or radiology.
If you can handle jumping from room to room with multiple patients crashing, consider being an ER physician.Click To Tweet

Also be sure to consider the patients you’re going to be taking care of and the emotional toll it’s going to have on you, especially when dealing with cancer patients.

  1. Find a mentor.

Having a mentor is one of the keys to success in medical school. Mentors help pave the way for you. It can be life-changing to find the right mentor.

It can be life-changing to find the right mentor.Click To Tweet

Benefits of having a mentor:

  • Broadening your experience
  • Exposing you to different facets of the field
  • Providing opportunities for you to meet other people in that field

Qualities in a mentor to look for:

  • They’re someone you look up to and you connect with
  • They are passionate about the field
  • They have time to devote to helping you
  1. Research.

Specialties like neurosurgery, ENT, and radiation-oncology expect you to have research experience in that specialty. Find a research mentor and get involved in a project early on if you think you may be interested in one of these fields.

A Whole Podcast About Medical Specialties

Check out my podcast Specialty Stories for interviews with physicians in a wide variety of specialties. My guests and I dive into not only the core specialties but also many subspecialties. I interview urban and rural practitioners, and we contrast academic versus community settings. We really dig into the details! So go check out the Specialty Stories Podcast!

Links and Other Resources