Which Medical Specialty Should You Choose?

August 17

Table of Contents

You have finally made it to medical school and selected the best program to prepare you for your future medical profession after months of studying to earn a decent MCAT score, writing dozens of medical school personal statements, and overcoming interview anxiety!

But when you enter your third year, you must make the difficult choice of a medical specialty. The decision can seem complicated because there are so many options for residency school specialization.

Of course, it is crucial to avoid underestimating the importance of this choice. The specialty you select will significantly impact your immediate daily life, beginning with your residency period and continuing long after. 

That is why it is equally important to keep calm and composure to confidently and correctly choose.

This article will help you decide which medical specialty you should choose. From the different factors to consider and the tips on selecting the best medical thing, we have them all in this article.

Table of Contents

What is Medical Specialty?

A medical specialty is a subset of medical practice concentrated on a specific patient population, ailment, abilities, or medical philosophy. 

Physicians, surgeons, and other clinicians typically continue their medical education in a particular specialty of medicine by finishing a multi-year residency to become specialists after completing medical school or further basic training. 

What are the Different Medical Specialties to Choose From?

Every medical specialist has the same objective: to assist patients in achieving or maintaining health. But each has very particular abilities that make them essential contributors to the medical community.

Learn more about the subspecialties that fall under each specialization.

1. Allergy and Immunology

Allergy and immunology specialists treat pediatric and adult patients with allergies, immune systems, and respiratory illnesses. Patients with common diseases like asthma, food and medication allergies, immune system deficits, and lung disorders may benefit from their assistance.

Allergy and immunology experts can pursue careers in research, instruction, or clinical practice.

2. Anesthesiology

The area of medicine known as anesthesiology focuses on providing patients with pain treatment before, during, and following an operation. 

The main focus of the specialty is the monitoring and preservation of a patient's critical functions throughout the perioperative period, as well as the prevention and mitigation of pain and misery utilizing various anesthetic medications.

3. Dermatology

Dermatologists are medical professionals who care for adult and child patients with conditions affecting their skin, hair, nails, and nearby mucous membranes. 

They identify everything, including skin cancer, tumors, inflammatory skin conditions, and viral infections. They also carry out dermatological surgical treatments, including skin biopsies.

4. Diagnostic Radiology

Diagnostic radiologists are educated to identify diseases in patients using X-rays, radioactive materials, sound waves in ultrasounds, or the magnetic resonance of the body in magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs).

5. Emergency Medicine

Adult and pediatric patients are treated in emergency settings by doctors specializing in emergency medicine

To save lives and stop additional harm, these specialists make decisions and take prompt action. They assist patients in the pre-hospital setting by guiding emergency medical technicians and aiding patients when they get to the emergency room.

6. Family Medicine

Family medicine prioritizes integrated care and treating the patient as a whole, in contrast to many medical specialties that concentrate on a particular organ or function of the body. 

Family medicine specialists see patients of all ages. They have the in-depth training to offer complete medical care and manage most illnesses.

7. Internal Medicine

A doctor who treats illnesses of the heart, blood, kidneys, joints, digestive, respiratory, and circulatory systems in young, adult, and elderly patients is known as an internist

In clinics and hospitals, these doctors offer comprehensive, long-term care. These doctors address illness prevention, wellness, substance misuse, and mental health because they receive primary care training in internal medicine.

8. Medical Genetics

A medical geneticist is a doctor who detects diseases brought on by genetic flaws and cures inherited conditions. Patients may get therapeutic therapies and specialist counseling from medical geneticists.

Additionally, they inform patients and their families about diagnoses and coping mechanisms for genetic disorders. Cytogenetic, radiologic, and biochemical tests are performed by medical geneticists, as well as scientific investigations.

9. Neurology

The area of medicine known as neurology focuses on the nervous system and nerves. 

Neurologists identify and manage conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord, muscles, blood vessels, peripheral nerves, and autonomic nervous system. Since neurologists treat patients with strokes, Alzheimer's, seizures, and spinal cord disorders, so much of neurology is consultative.

10. Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear radiologists or nuclear medicine radiologists are medical professionals who practice atomic medicine. 

To identify and treat illnesses, they use radioactive materials. These doctors examine photographs of the body's organs using methods like scintigraphy to identify specific disorders.

Additionally, hyperthyroidism, thyroid cancer, malignancies, and bone cancer may be treated with radiopharmaceuticals.

11. Obstetrics and Gynecology

Ob/GYNs (obstetricians and gynecologists) treat diseases of the female reproductive system and their related conditions. 

This area of medicine covers various treatments, such as prenatal care, gynecologic care, cancer, surgery, and general female healthcare.

12. Ophthalmology

Ophthalmology specialists create comprehensive medical and surgical care for the eyes. 

Eye doctors identify and address eyesight issues. They may handle cataract procedures, corneal transplants, diabetic retinopathy, strabismus, and other conditions.

13. Pathology

A doctor with training in pathology researches the causes and characteristics of illnesses. 

Pathologists use microscopic analysis and clinical lab testing to identify, track, and treat diseases. They use the lab's biological, chemical, and physical sciences to analyze tissues, cells, and bodily fluids.

They might look at tissues to see if an organ transplant is necessary, or they might look at a pregnant woman's blood to ensure the fetus is healthy.

14. Pediatrics

Pediatricians treat patients from infancy through adolescence by diagnosing and treating them. 

Pediatricians diagnose common pediatric illnesses like asthma, allergies, and croup while practicing preventative medicine.

15. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists assist patients with conditions affecting their brains, spinal cords, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. 

Physical therapists provide treatment regimens for diseases like multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, brain damage, stroke, and pediatric and musculoskeletal rehabilitation for patients of all ages.

Unlike many other medical professions, they try to enhance patients' quality of life rather than find medical cures.

16. Preventive Medicine

Through promoting patient health and well-being, doctors specializing in preventive medicine work to ward off disease. Their knowledge encompasses biostatistics, epidemiology, occupational and environmental medicine, and the assessment and management of healthcare organizations and services.

Their experience extends far beyond clinical preventative approaches. 

To comprehend the causes of disease and harm in population groups, the field incorporates interdisciplinary components of the medical, social, economic, and behavioral sciences.

17. Psychiatry

Psychiatry Medical professionals specializing in psychiatry devote their lives to treating mental illness and its related psychological and physical effects. 

While conducting medical laboratory and psychological testing to identify and treat patients, psychiatrists must also understand the links between genetics, emotion, and mental illness.

18. Radiation Oncology

Doctors specializing in radiation oncology use high-energy radiation treatment to treat cancer. 

Radiation oncologists destroy the DNA of cancer cells by concentrating radiation doses in tiny regions of the body, halting further growth. Radiation oncologists treat cancer patients, prescribing and carrying out treatment regimens while keeping track of their development.

19. Surgery

Surgery specialists can become general surgeons or concentrate on a particular body part, patient population, or surgical procedure. 

Appendectomies and splenectomies are only two examples of the many life-saving procedures that general surgeons do. They receive extensive training in intensive care, wound healing, and human anatomy and physiology.

20. Urology

Care for the male and female urinary tract, comprising the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra, is provided by the medical specialty of urology

The male sex organs are also covered. Surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics, gynecology, and other things are all covered by urologists.

What are the Most Competitive Medical Specialties?

Doctors frequently make some of the highest wages in the country, as most Americans are well aware. The medical specialty with the highest incomes is less well-known. 

If you consider becoming a doctor and money is a significant deciding factor, you might be interested in these highest-paying medical specializations.

1. Cardiologists

  • Average Annual Salary: USD 524,827
  • Average Work Hours Per Week: 58 hours 

Cardiology is the first specialty on our list without a dedicated residency. 

Alternatively, you must complete six years of training after graduating from medical school, including three years of internship, three years of cardiology fellowship, and three years of internal medicine residency.

Cardiology fellowships rank among the most challenging to get into in internal medicine. Cardiology is a fellowship rather than a residency, so comparing its competitiveness to other specialties on our list is difficult.

2. Pediatric Surgeons

  • Average Annual Salary: USD 485,989
  • Average Work Hours Per Week: 46 hours

Children are treated by pediatric surgeons from birth through late adolescence. They center their medical practice on providing care for children. One learns how to treat children medically and surgically through advanced training and real-world experience.

Pediatric surgeons work in areas with equipment designed for kids. Additionally, they have extensive training and experience in meeting the requirements of children. This entails providing care for specific and maybe uncommon surgical conditions that affect children.

3. Radiologists

  • Average Annual Salary: USD 448,190
  • Average Work Hours Per Week: 48 hours

Radiologists use medical imaging tools to identify and occasionally treat diseases, syndromes, and other health issues. 

They are doctors who specialize in employing medical imaging (radiology) techniques such as X-rays, computed tomography, nuclear medicine, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, and positron emission tomography (PET) to diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries.

Radiologists must complete a minimum of 13 years of education, which includes medical school, a four-year residency, and, most typically, an additional one- or two-year fellowship in a highly specialized field, such as radiation oncology, pediatric radiography, or interventional radiology.

4. Surgeons

  • Average Annual Salary: USD 425,800
  • Average Work Hours Per Week: 40 hours

A surgeon is a doctor who diagnoses and cures illnesses that may necessitate surgical procedures or physical changes to the body. Surgery can be performed to diagnose a problem or treat an injury. 

To ensure a successful operation, surgeons supervise nurses and other medical staff in the OR (operating room).

Even if there are diverse traditions in different ages and nations, a modern surgeon receives the same medical training as physicians before specializing in surgery, is a licensed physician, or both.

5. Anesthesiologists

  • Average Annual Salary: USD 420,196
  • Average Work Hours Per Week: 50 hours 

Anesthesiologists are medical specialists who keep patients asleep, medicated, or pain-free during surgical procedures. Although they are not surgeons, anesthesiologists work primarily with patients having surgery. 

Patients who get anesthesia or pain medication are better prepared for difficult or painful diagnostic tests and surgeries. 

As the patient undergoes surgery, anesthesiologists keep an eye on their breathing, body temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and other vital signs to check for discomfort or stress and adjust the patient's pain medication as necessary. They support postoperative care by keeping an eye on patients after surgery.

6. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons

  • Average Annual Salary: USD 390,357
  • Average Work Hours Per Week: 40 hours

The area of expertise for oral and maxillofacial surgeons is the face, head, neck, and jaw reconstruction surgery. 

Examples of this surgery include complex dental procedures affecting the jawbone and facial restoration after severe injuries. Depending on the country's legal structure, oral and maxillofacial surgery may require a degree in either medicine, dentistry, or both.

7. Emergency Medicine

  • Average Annual Salary: USD 361,200
  • Average Work Hours Per Week: 46 hours

Physicians specializing in emergency medicine are unique in that they frequently work shifts, which is not true of many other medical specialties. They do not bring their job home; instead, they clock in and out.

However, there are disadvantages to emergency medicine. Even while shift work is frequently seen favorably, keeping a regular circadian rhythm could be challenging because you might end up working irregular hours depending on your shifts.

Holidays and significant occasions are not observed in emergency situations. As a result, it is common to skip them, especially if you are still learning or have only recently begun working as an attendant.

8. Dermatologists

  • Average Annual Salary: USD 374,400
  • Average Work Hours Per Week: 45 hours

After graduating from medical school, the 4-year training program needed to become a dermatologist entails a 1-year internship and a 3-year dermatology residency. In terms of training time, this puts dermatology in the center of the pack.

Dermatology is known for having a "cush" lifestyle in contrast to other medical specialties because it is an outpatient area, medical conditions are widely understood, the field typically receives a high frequency of calls, and the workweek is flexible.

9. Orthopedic Surgeons

  • Average Annual Salary: USD 317,772
  • Average Work Hours Per Week: 57 hours

Among the most paying specialties, orthopedic surgery consistently ranks among the top 10. 

Five years is a standard length for most surgical specialties but longer than many nonsurgical specialties for orthopedic residency. Additionally, there are more extended residency programs that provide more research training.

Depending on the subspecialty you select, your on-call obligations may vary. For instance, if you want to subspecialize in trauma, be prepared for a busier call schedule.

10. Obstetricians and Gynecologists

  • Average Annual Salary: USD 309,510
  • Average Work Hours Per Week: 52 hours

The two branches of obstetrics that focus on the condition of the female reproductive system are obstetrics and gynecology

Although many doctors go on to specialize in one or the other, postgraduate training programs for both disciplines are typically combined, preparing the practicing obstetrician-gynecologist to be knowledgeable in both the management of pregnancy and the care of the health of female reproductive organs.

When Do You Have to Decide on Medical Specialty?

It is crucial to resist being pressured into a specialty before you are ready to commit. There is no definite timeline by which you must make your choice. Having said that, some considerations are needed to help things become more apparent.

It is crucial to maintain an open mind while in pre-clinical years. The first and second years should be devoted to investigating the countless options available. There will be a lot of self-discovery throughout this season of learning. 

The ability to better understand one's preferences, dislikes, talents, and shortcomings would benefit the students. They will be able to judge their fit more accurately as a result.

Your third year of medical school's core rotations will expose you to various specialties and the environments in which they are practiced. 

During this time, the majority of students usually decide on a specialism.

However, some people will not understand it until their fourth year. Some students even add an extra year to give themselves more time to decide. It all depends on what works best for you regarding the optimal time to decide.

Which Medical Specialty Should You Choose: Factors to Consider

Your life will be profoundly affected immediately and later on by your chosen specialty. Throughout your four years in medical school, you would inevitably alter your minds, too.

Where do you go from there, and how can you develop a system to select the specialty that best suits you?

For your reference, here are the different factors that you must consider when choosing a medical specialty:

1. Your Scientific and Clinical Interests 

First, what organ system or clinical questions excite and stimulate you the most? 

Anesthesiology can be a suitable fit for you if pharmacology and physiology are your interests. If you enjoy anatomy, you should think about a surgical specialization. 

Neurology or neurosurgery are good options if you are fascinated by the brain and how it functions.

2. Patient Care: Direct vs. Indirect

Do you prefer direct or indirect patient care, assuming you intend to practice clinically? 

Radiology and pathology are examples of specialties that provide indirect patient care. Most everything else falls under direct patient care.

3. Surgery, Medicine, or a Combination

Next, assuming you wish to provide direct patient care, choose between a surgical practice where you spend most of your time in the operating room and a medical practice where surgical operations are more uncommon.

The degree of patient engagement and continuity you prefer should be considered while responding to this question. 

Do you take pleasure in conversing with patients and creating enduring connections? If so, there are plenty of opportunities in internal and family medicine.

Or do you like contact with patients that are quick and effective? This choice is best served by emergency medicine, anesthesiology, and several surgical subspecialties.

4. Work-Life Balance

Students studying medicine and pre-medicine frequently believed that work-life balance was insignificant when they began medical school. 

But after being put through the wringer and reaching the conclusion of medical school, they start to see how crucial their way of life is.

It is simple to link difficult or erratic working conditions with increased rates of burnout. Still, the situation is more nuanced than that. 

Unlike nonsurgical professions, surgical specialties typically have more extended and demanding work weeks. However, this does not always mean that these disciplines have higher rates of burnout.

5. Type of Patient Population

Choosing the patients and outcomes you are most at ease with is a sometimes underappreciated yet crucial factor. Think about the kind of patients you often see in your chosen specialization. 

Emergency physicians deal with different types of patients and daily interactions compared to the typical pediatrician or orthopedic surgeon.

6. Tertiary Considerations

Finally, there are a few things to remember, albeit they will not likely be as crucial as those discussed earlier.

Assess your own abilities first. Even if most skills may be learned, there are certain advantages to utilizing your strengths. We typically prefer activities we are skilled at. A procedural-focused specialty might not be a good fit if you are clumsy and uncoordinated.

Second, think about a specialty's level of competition. Your prospects of getting into a field like plastic surgery may be minor if you barely make it through medical school. 

Having said that, we firmly believe that a person's study habits, techniques, and strategies determine most of their achievement in college or medical school.

Top 10 Tips for Choosing a Medical School Specialty

Physician specialization is one of the most significant choices you will make during medical school. Various factors influence this choice, including your background, clinical interests, rotational experiences, training program length, and financial and lifestyle considerations.

To help you decide, here are a few tips and advice we can give you as you choose your medical school specialty.

1. Reflect on Your Interests 

This advice can seem apparent at first look and not deserving of elaboration. However, you would be shocked at how frequently it is disregarded. 

Many medical students find it challenging to resist continuous counsel from family, friends, and peers, preventing them from standing up for their passions and interests.

As an alternative, some medical students decide on their specialty by guessing which field has the best chance of matching them. Even a nearly assured match cannot ensure success or career satisfaction.

Additionally, remember that the medical specialization you choose will significantly impact how your life turns out: your future, not that of your peers, family, or friends. 

And keep in mind that it is you — not your parents, siblings, aunts, or uncles — who want to be a doctor.

Spend some time really thinking about your clinical interests. Which subjects sparked your curiosity throughout medical school? Was there one rotation in particular that you excelled at and enjoyed? 

You get to choose, but it should not be a hasty one. Spend some time and effort reflecting so that you may get to the best conclusion.

2. Do not Procrastinate

Early on, consider your possibilities. It can be challenging to balance medical school obligations, and you might not want to add another activity to your list of things to accomplish. 

Early option exploration is essential to provide yourself with the knowledge and exposure needed to choose the best specialty. 

You may be able to study numerous specializations in your electives, or you may have to devote some of your spare time to researching the nuances of the various specialties available, depending on the institution you are attending.

Summer breaks are an excellent opportunity to look for ways to broaden your exposure to several professions and get a sense of which specialty would be the best fit for you if you do not have the convenience of studying specialties during elective time.  

Do not wait to learn more about the field(s) and become active in activities that will raise your profile as a candidate. Many of the most competitive specialties that demand research experience also require an early expression of your interest in that subject.

3. Be Flexible

It is common for medical students to have a notion of their desired specialty before they even begin their education. Occasionally, someone will continue to work toward their original aim after graduating.

Medical students, however, frequently change their minds numerous times before settling on the ideal specialty. It is acceptable and common to change your opinion. 

Have an open mind as you obtain more knowledge and identify your hobbies. You can never predict where "changing your mind" will lead.

4. Define the Conditions You Want at Work

Your workplace will significantly influence your long-term feelings about your profession. You should consider the setting in which you thrive. 

Do you like the chaos of an emergency room, for instance, or do you find it overwhelming? 

Will you instead go to a quiet doctor's office with more structure and routine, or will this eventually get old? 

You should think about your initial motivation for choosing the medical sector and the kind of workplace where you can function most effectively.

5. Limit Your Options

The decision between surgical and nonsurgical specialties must be made early in choosing a thing. Once you have completed this distinction, you can further restrict your other alternatives.

The ability to observe firsthand what daily life is like in that specialization requires clinical rotation experience. Throughout this process, have an open mind, be objective, and consider all the factors before deciding.

6. Forget About Prestige

Many students believe they should go for the most prestigious specialty available after the blood, sweat, and tears spent on getting into medical school, covering the cost of medical school, and putting in the work necessary to succeed in their chosen program, but this may not be the best course of action. 

Even though prestige can be alluring because it acknowledges one's work and abilities, it is neither the secret to success nor a guarantee of professional pleasure and fulfillment. 

Actually, the likelihood is that status will not make you happy if you do not like the journey to where you feel you have succeeded.  

Instead of focusing on how prestigious a specialization may be, evaluate the factors most important to your fulfillment and happiness:

  • How important is work-life balance to you?
  • Are clinical research goals a priority for you professionally?
  • Which specialties pique your interest?
  • How important is receiving money for your work?

7. Establish Your Time Commitment

Remembering that various specialties call for time commitments ranging from three to six years is significant. 

You must be willing to devote the necessary time to finishing a residency application, which includes writing a personal statement, updating your resume, and meeting any other requirements.

Consider whether you have the time and resources to complete the work of a specialization program.

8. Decide How Involved You Want to Be With Your Patients

Although patient-centered care is the norm in most healthcare systems in the Global North, there are still differences in patient involvement amongst medical specialties.

Consider a radiology specialist, for example. Yes, a lot of radiology professionals do meet with patients. Still, they also spend much time studying pictures like X-rays and ultrasounds. 

Radiologists frequently work as part of a whole care team, relaying their analysis of the images to other doctors responsible for informing the patient of the results and developing the best course of action. 

On the other hand, family medicine specialists are very engaged with their patients. 

In addition to seeing more patients daily, family medicine physicians also have a propensity to follow their patients throughout their lives, necessitating the development and maintenance of close, trustworthy bonds with their patients. It is up to you how much you want to interact with patients daily, so be honest about your preferences.

9. Obtain Considerable Clinical Experience in The Fields of Study You Are Interested In

Even if your clinical rotations in medical school expose you to the fields you are interested in, look for more clinical opportunities. 

To gain enough exposure to the field, try to shadow a few doctors that specialize in your area(s) of interest. 

Attend talks given by doctors who specialize in your preferred field, study current issues within that field, and learn as much as you can about it to make an informed choice. 

These clinical encounters in many specializations can frequently help you identify the ones you have no interest in, which is also helpful. Eliminating specialties that do not interest you is a necessary step in choosing the one you wish to study.

10. Be Honest with Yourself

Be sincere about your goals for a residency program, potential specialization, and the talents you can bring to the table. When evaluating the strength of your application, it is essential, to be honest with yourself.

Your personal residency statement, board scores, letters of recommendation, the caliber of your application materials, and the standing of your medical school are just a few of the variables that affect how strong your application is. 

It takes some self-awareness and realism to understand the level of competition for a particular specialty to know whether you are a competitive applicant.

Additional FAQs – Which Medical Specialty Should You Choose 

Can I Still Apply for A Medical Specialty with Little Experience?

Every circumstance will require a different response to this question. 

Although applying with little experience is conceivable, your chances of approval decrease directly proportional to how competitive that field is.

Less competitive disciplines like pathology, physical medicine, and psychiatry will give you a greater chance than highly sought-after dermatology or orthopedic surgery positions.

Some factors have the potential to improve your odds. Throughout your medical school career, a prodigious commitment to research and solid relationships may be that extra edge you need to succeed. 

Another choice is to stay on for an additional year, perhaps pursue an advanced degree, and concentrate on putting together the most substantial package possible to apply for that specialty later.

Should Geographic Location Affect My Medical School Specialty Decision?

Your residency location has an impact on your medical career on some levels. The opportunities you will be given in the future once your time is through may frequently depend on where you live.

For instance, doctors who complete their residency in major cities like Philadelphia or New York are more likely to work in hospitals of the same type than doctors who meet in smaller hospitals in the Midwest.

Selecting a residency program that most accurately matches your long-term career goals and lifestyle preferences will be crucial. When choosing a city for their residency, many students consider the cost of living and future employment prospects.

What If I Can't Choose a Medical Specialty?

Do not panic. You have made a fantastic time and financial commitment to medical school to get you to this point. 

Suppose you are in the process of applying for residencies and have not yet decided on a specialty. In that case, you have many possibilities.

Some students will choose the most accessible specialty to get into and stop there. Others will submit two applications, selecting two or more specialties and assuming the additional challenges accompanying them.

Undecided students may consider delaying their decision by another year, taking an extra year to get an advanced degree, according to numerous advisors.

You're no longer alone on your journey to becoming a physician

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