Questions To Ask Yourself When It’s Time To Select Your Residency Specialty

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Sometime during your 3rd and 4th year clinical rotations you will have to decide which specialty training you wish to pursue. Med students have to start applying to residency programs early in the 4th year ahead of the interviews, which are generally held a little later during 4th year.

Gap Medics student on a maternity placement in Africa While some students have a fair idea about the specialty they may want to enter early during medical school, others may find it a little more difficult to make up their mind. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when considering which specialty is the right one for you:

Q: Does the specialty truly interest you? Do you think you could do this for a living over the next few years?

What to think about: This is probably the most crucial influencing factor when choosing a specialty. It is absolutely important that you only choose a specialty that you are truly interested in. Don’t make the mistake of choosing a specialty simply because it pays very well or it is the most prestigious. You have to consider whether you can see yourself practicing that specialty over the next few years. A medical career is a long-term goal involving a rigorous training period. You do not want to go through it all only to be stuck in a specialty you just can’t get yourself to like. The happiness factor plays a huge role after all. Sure, you can change your specialty at any time but think of how painful it would be to start all over again. Take your time and think hard about all of your options before deciding.     

Q: Does the specialty give you lifestyle that you want for yourself? Are you fine with the compensation offered in your chosen speciality and the number of hours you know you will have to work?

What to think about: Lifestyle factors are equally important when making this decision, second only to the happiness factor. Some specialties such as surgery or cardiology may pay very well but it also means longer working hours and more emergency calls as compared to some other specialties such as dermatology, which have relatively fewer working hours and almost zero emergencies. For some individuals, the challenges involved in complex surgery more than make up for the lifestyle sacrifices they may have to make. They would never dream of specialising in family medicine despite being aware of the obvious lifestyle advantages it offers. You will have to make that all-important decision as to how much time you would want to spend at work each week vs. spending time at home with your family or indulging in other hobbies.

Q: Are you okay with the length and intensity of residency training for this particular specialty?

What to think about: The duration and intensity of residency training varies widely between specialties. Cardiology and surgery are two specialties that have the longest and most intense residency training and the most on calls. If you love the challenge, you will thrive in this environment. However, if you are looking for something a little less rigorous, you will have to set your sights elsewhere. 

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