Finishing up medical school and concerned about selecting a specialty to focus on for the rest of your life? Chances are, you aren’t alone. According to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, there are 157 medical specialties and subspecialties, a figure which has both good and bad news attached to it! The good news is, there are many areas of medicine you can focus your career on. The bad news, it may be difficult to narrow them down.

To assist you in choosing a medical specialty to practice, we’ve outlined some items to consider along the way. Hopefully, the information below can help guide you to select an area of medicine that is equal parts exciting and manageable.

 

    1. Explore the Options

When choosing a medical specialty to pursue for residency or post-graduate education, you should start by considering all the options available. At first, this may seem overwhelming. During medical school, you probably gained textbook knowledge in many areas, but you may not be aware of what the day-to-day activities of each specialty are.

You can explore what it is like to be a physician in a particular area of medicine by completing research online or participating in a clinical experience. Clinical experiences can provide you with a comprehensive look at a specific medical specialty or subspecialty in a short period of time. Completing one of these experiences has additional benefits, making them a great option.

Explore medical specialties >

Learn about clinical experiences >

 

    1. Pay Attention to Your Interests

After exploring all the options available, the next step to choosing a medical specialty is to analyze your interests. Ideally, the one you select should excite you. While every job has creates stress and strain on occasion, you should, in general, feel content upon entering your office and approaching the day ahead.

Aside from the excitement factor, you should consider items like which populations you enjoy working with best or how you want your day to be structured. Stanford Medicine put together a list of seven questions to help guide medical students like you to a specialty they genuinely love. Here is an overview of the questions:

    • What are your areas of scientific/clinical interest?
    • Do you prefer a surgical, medical, or a mixed specialty?
    • What type of activities do you want to engage in?
    • How much patient interaction do you want?

For specialty recommendations based on how you answer each question, check out Stanford Medicines Roadmap to Choosing a Medical Specialty.

 

    1. Evaluate the Lifestyle

Each job has its pros and cons. For healthcare professionals, negatives include lengthy educational requirements and busy schedules. Depending on your interests outside of medicine, both could be deterrent, which is why these items should be considered early when choosing a medical specialty to pursue.

After completing medical school, you must complete a medical residency to earn your license. Medical residencies can last between three and seven years. If you want to subspecialize, be ready to tac on an additional one to three years of fellowship training. For an overview of educational requirements for each medical specialty and subspecialty, click here.

Aside from educational requirements, you should consider the demands of the job relating to time commitment and mental state. Long hours coupled with difficult cases, may take a toll on your mental state and cause burnout. The American Medical Association put together a list of the medical specialties that cause the most and least physician burnout, which you may consider consulting.

 

    1. Consider the Data

The medical field is a competitive one, but we don’t have to tell you that. As a current medical student or graduate, you have experienced it! Although some decisions may require you to go with your gut, choosing a medical specialty should include some number crunching to get a preview of competition within each specialty.

To help you match into your preferred medical specialty, you should select an area of medicine with a moderate number of seats available. You will also want to consider if these programs accept students with your grades and test scores.

If you are an IMG, things are more complicated. You’ll want to stay up to date on the medical specialties with high IMG populations. According to data taken from the 2020 match, pathology, internal medicine, neurology, and family medicine were the specialties accepting the most IMGs. While applying to these programs does not guarantee acceptance, the data points suggest it might be easier to get in.

Upon graduation from medical school, you may have an impressive amount of student debt. To pay this off, you must secure a well-paying job. Before finalizing your decision of a medical specialty, take a look at Medscape’s annual physician salary report. This resource does a great job of comparing the income of physicians within the U.S.

Picking a medical specialty with a high income will do nothing for you if there are not many job opportunities. You should make a point to research which medical specialties will be in high demand in the future based on trends being reported now.

 

We hope the information above will be useful as you continue to explore and weigh each of the medical specialties and subspecialties available. No matter which area of medicine you choose, your work in healthcare can be just as rewarding as it is important!