Sooner or later, aspiring doctors and physicians have to decide which specialty they want to pursue in medical school. While some have no trouble figuring out which career suits them best, others have a hard time choosing, and they’re constantly changing their mind.
This is an important decision as it dictates the future of the student’s entire professional life. It is based on several different factors including personal interests, hands-on experience, and lifestyle preferences.
In this article, we’ll be providing some tips on how to choose a medical specialty. We’ll also cover a few other important topics that you should consider that will help you reach a final decision faster.
How to Choose a Medical Specialty
Ideally, students should have decided on a medical specialty by the end of their third year. The fall of the fourth year is when residency applications start going out for most students, so it’s important to make a decision by then. Here are a few tips on how to choose a medical specialty.
Consider Your Interests
During your studies, you’ll come across a few areas that you’ll like, and a few areas that you won’t like as much. Try figuring out what your passion is, what topics inspire and motivate you, and which rotations you enjoyed the most.
Choosing a specialty is all about figuring out what will make you happy to go to work every day for the rest of your life. Ignore any unsolicited advice and don’t make a decision simply based on what might be a good match. Go with the areas in which you’ll feel fulfilled.
Start Thinking About It Early
The earlier you begin to explore your options, the better. Medical school is challenging enough and adding this decision to your list of to-do things later will eventually turn it into a burden. Also, by exploring different specialties early on, you’ll quickly be able to weed out some options that aren’t right for you.
Choosing different electives and exploring summer school are two ways that give students the chance to get some good exposure to different fields. Reaching out to professors, applying for research opportunities, and enrolling in a few extracurricular activities might also help you experiment with different study areas.
Only a small percentage of medical school students pursue the specialty they were interested in at the beginning of their studies. This means that the majority of students change their minds when it comes to choosing a medical specialty. This isn’t a surprise considering that there are over 160 specialties and subspecialties in the United States.
You are likely to change your mind too so don’t be too harsh on yourself and give different areas a change before you make up your mind for good.
You can check out our residency content to explore more about options, what each involves, and why certain specialties are more competitive than others.
Direct or Indirect Patient Care
One thing that medical students can easily decide on is whether they’d like to be involved in direct or indirect patient care. While most specialties involve direct patient care, there are a few options in which doctor-patient interaction is more limited, like radiology or pathology.
Consider to which degree you’d like to interact with patients every day and how involved with them you’d like to be. This will help you narrow down your options when choosing a medical specialty.
Get Clinical Experience
If there are only a few specialties in your mind, make sure to get as much experience in each of them as you can during med school’s clinical rotations. Try working alongside or at least watching different specialists in your fields of interest, read up on each topic, and attend conferences and presentations.
Gathering as much knowledge as possible is the best way to make an informed decision. Hands-on experience is great for helping you figure out which areas you’re truly interested in and which areas you’re not.
What to Consider When Choosing a Specialty
There are some important factors to consider when choosing a specialty. Medical students should think about the work environment they’d like to be in, how competitive the specialty of their choosing is, and the type of work-life balance they desire.
Preferred Work Environment
Consider what type of work environment would you best. Would you thrive in a hectic emergency department? Are you more comfortable with a small family medicine practice? Does spending your days performing surgeries sound good to you?
This decision comes down to personal preference and nothing else. You should choose a specialty that will allow you to be at your best and not exhaust you or wear you down every day.
Competitiveness of the specialty
The more competitive a specialty is, the harder it is to get into its residency programs. Be honest with yourself and evaluate whether you actually have what it takes to pursue such a specialty.
However, even if you’re struggling to get through medical school yet are passionate about a competitive field, it is always possible to make it. All you need to do is adjust your habits, strategies, and study systems to turn things around.
Medical students might not realize how important work-life balance is important until medical school burns them out. Different specialties come with different levels of unpredictability and challenging tasks.
Surgery specialties are always harder on professionals, however bureaucratic tasks, long hours, and increased periods of time in front of a computer are also great factors that contribute to burnout. Be sure to consider what sort of tasks each specialty requires and how they’d affect your life in the long run.
It Is Alright to Change Your Mind
As we’ve mentioned before, most students change their minds regarding their medical specialty, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t worry about disappointing yourself or others by having a change of heart when making a final decision.
Choosing a medical specialty is basically deciding on your future career and your opinion is the only one that should matter. Choose carefully but with intention, consider your interests, strengths, and the type of environment you’d like to see yourself in every day.