Choosing Your Specialty: Exploring The Many Options Available

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Which Medical Specialty Should You Choose?

Thoughts of which specialty to choose will be uppermost in your mind as you enter your third and fourth years in medical school. While some students have it all figured out and are sure about their choice of specialty, for others, this is a decision that can be overwhelmingly difficult. Orthopaedics, psychiatry and oncology all seem intriguing, but how do you know for sure which one will be the best fit for you?

Indecision about your specialty choice is not uncommon and can occur in all years of medical school. And because it is such a huge decision, even after making a choice, it is not unusual to question whether or not you’ve selected the right specialty.

Instead of getting overwhelmed by the enormity of this decision, perhaps it’s time to look at it a little differently.

Consider this – medicine is the only profession out there that offers such a diverse variety of niches, that there is a niche appealing to every type of personality. If you explore all of the options that are available in the various clinical skills and settings in medicine, you will see that there are more varieties to choose from compared to any other profession:

– You can serve as a general physician or a specialist cardio surgeon.

– You can choose to work with children or older people. 

– You can be the physician in a nursing home, for a sports team or on a cruise ship. 

– You can choose to do research or administrative activities or you can work directly with patients in any medical specialty in a hospital, private clinic or a research laboratory in any urban, suburban or rural location in your own country or internationally.

In addition to the place-of-work options, you will find that there is not just “one perfect” specialty for each person. You can explore and specialise in multiple specialties that share a few common features.

Examples of some of these specialty clusters include:

– Surgical specialties that involve hands-on work and offer immediate gratification. This includes all types of surgeries, obstetrics and gynaecology, invasive cardiology and gastroenterology among others

– Primary care specialties where you are usually the first point of contact for most patients. This cluster is well suited for those who look for long-term relationships not just with the patients but also with their families. It includes family medicine, general internal medicine and general paediatrics.

– Consultant specialties that involve the use of technology, such as radiation oncology and nuclear medicine or little or no direct patient care responsibilities such as pathology, radiology and preventive medicine.

Physicians with interest and skills in each of these clusters often share strikingly similar values and personalities.

Even before starting medical school and then right through the medical program, spending some time figuring out the answer to the question, “What kind of person am I”, will help you determine which specialty is best suited for your personality and aptitude. One good way to do this is to analyse how you tend to spend your time and energy and what are the activities you enjoy most. Do you see yourself leaning towards volunteer activities where you interact directly with others or do you prefer to stay behind the scenes doing research? Do you prefer interacting with children or with older people? Would you thrive in the chaotic, fast-paced emergency medicine department or are you looking for something a little slower paced?

As you begin medical school, use a few established self-assessment resources to test and analyse your initial specialty interests. Take this one step further by shadowing physicians or doing a medical placement so you can observe what it is like to work in the different clinical settings and A Gap Medics student shadowing dentists at Hang Dong Hospital in Chiang Mai, Thailand analyse your own comfort in these settings. Read as much as you can about the different specialties.

As you go through the decision process, you may find yourself flirting fleetingly with different specialties but by getting to know yourself better and using available resources, you can make a more informed decision while reducing the uncertainty and stress that is typically associated with choosing a medical specialty.

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