10 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing Your Medical Specialty

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For some students, they know exactly what type of doctor they want to become even before applying to med school. For others, their path becomes clear once they are in medical school and completing their clinical rotations. But for some people, the decision on which specialty to choose is not an easy one. Consider asking yourself some of the following questions to help you narrow down your focus. 

Are you a people person?

Most doctors have some contact with patients unless they are involved exclusively in research, and even then they may deal with patients. But certain medical specialties involve more patient contact than others. For example, if you enjoy a lot of patient contact, there are many specialties you may do well in. From psychiatry to family practice, you have the opportunity to spend time with your patients. If you are on the opposite end of the spectrum and consider yourself an introvert, you may do better in radiology or pathology.

How long are you willing to train?

You probably don’t mind school, or you would not have become a doctor. But after four years of college and four more years of med school, you may not want to commit to a lengthy residency and fellowship. All med school grads must complete a residency. But the length of your residency varies by specialty. For instance, if you choose to become a surgeon, plan on a minimum of six years of residency.

Do you have a patient population you want to work with?

Not all doctors have a certain population they want to treat. For others, they have an interest in working with children, the elderly or patients with mental health issues. If you have a strong interest in caring for a certain population, it may help lead you to a certain specialty.

What type of lifestyle is important to you?

There is nothing wrong with wanting a life outside of your career. Physicians spend a lot of time at work. You may want to consider how that will affect your personal life. Consider how much free time is important to you. Some medical specialties tend to be more time consuming than others. Although the specialty you choose is not the only factor that determines the number of hours you work, it can play a role. For example, surgeons may be on call and spend very long hours in the operating room. The nature of surgery may lend itself to unpredictable hours.

Do you need a lot of variety?

Some people like a lot of variety on the job while others prefer a routine. If enjoy the unpredictable, you may want to consider a medical specialty, such as emergency medicine. ER doctors never know what will come through the door next. For those who like more of a structured workday, they may prefer to work in private practice in a specialty, such as pediatrics or family practice.

How do you perform under stress?

It is difficult to predict what specialty will be the most stressful. Lots of factors can contribute to stress, such as operating your own practice, long hours or supervising your staff. But there are certain areas of medicine, which tend to involve treating patients with life-threatening conditions.  When the stakes are life and death, the pressure is on. If you do well under pressure, working in critical care or the emergency room may be a good fit. If you prefer a low-key specialty, consider ophthalmology or dermatology.

What do you value most?

Think about what makes you tick. What do you enjoy the most about medicine? Are you fascinated with research or do you love to treat complex cases? Consider what rotations you excelled at and what ones you disliked. Sometimes you have to trust your gut when choosing your path. Give a lot of thought to what specialty feels right.

What setting do you want to work in?

Some doctors want to work in a large teaching hospital while others prefer to start their own practice. Maybe you hope to work in an underserved community or a clinic. The type of environment you are most comfortable in may play a role in which specialty you choose. 

How important is doing procedures?

The responsibilities of a doctor may vary based on their specialty. Certain types of doctors are more likely to perform procedures while other medical specialties involve doing more diagnostics. For instance, surgeons and emergency room doctors perform a variety of procedures from surgery to inserting chest tubes

How squeamish are you?

Not every doctor has a strong stomach. Keep in mind, you may get used to some of the gross stuff during med school, but you may still have a limit on what you can tolerate. Some people do not mind all the sights and smells that can be found in a hospital. But there are some doctors who prefer to steer clear of all the blood and guts. If you are easily grossed out, consider a specialty, such as psychiatry.

After asking yourself the above questions, it should be easier to narrow down your focus and figure out what type of doctor you want to be. If you are still on the fence about a specialty, consider some additional tips.

Take a medical specialty aptitude test: A test may not give you a definitive answer to which specialty to choose, but it is an additional tool to help you make the decision.

Talk to others in the field: If possible, talk to residents and attending physicians about their specialty. Find out what it is really like on a day to day basis. If you are an undergrad, shadow a doctor in the specialty you are considering.

Don’t choose a specialty for the wrong reasons: Becoming a certain type of doctor because you think it will make you rich or holds a certain amount or status may not be good reasons to choose a specialty.

 

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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.

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