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Wait to Determine a Medical School Specialty

Keep your options open, and don't feel pressured to choose a medical school specialty from day one. 

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Contemplating factors such as your preferred patient demographic and work environment will help narrow down medical school specialty choices.

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So you think you want to be an orthopedic hand surgeon or a pediatric hematologist? Not so fast.  

It’s important to enter medical school with an open mind, ready to gain exposure to as many specialties as possible in order to make an informed decision about your career path. Having an inkling is one thing, but it can be detrimental to be rooted to one specialty from the start.

You may find that trying to tie your interest in a specialty to anticipated demand for physicians to be fraught with difficulty. You may realize you are not good with your hands, hate being confined in the operating room, don’t like children or aren’t excited about delivering babies. Keeping your options open leaves room for consideration of specialties you might never have fathomed.  

[Consider shadowing a physician to gain medical school insight.]

There are a few ways students can go about identifying a specialty that fits their life. 

As you enter medical school, recall any premed school volunteer experiences. These will help shape your list of possible specialties. Next, contemplate other factors such as the population served, primary setting and your preferred communication style.   

Medicine is defined by specific populations like adults, children, males and females. When working with children, parents are also an integral part of the interaction. If you have an affinity for working with a specific gender, think about either obstetrics and gynecology for females, or a male-predominant urology practice.  

Doctors work in a variety of settings including nursing homes, hospitals and surgery centers. The operating room is a specific environment and cuts across many specialties, including some that are organ-focused, like cardiothoracic surgery, or situation-focused environments, like trauma or orthopedic surgery.   

[Learn what it's like to work a day as a medical nocturnist.]

A natural extrovert may excel in a specialty where they frequently interact with patients directly. An introvert may gravitate to specialties with less direct patient communication and more physician-to-physician interface.  

The tools to gain entry into a selective specialty residency are the same tools needed to enter medical school. It takes planning, but the residency application process is similar to that of medical school as it includes test scores, grades, recommendations and a personal statement.   

Remember, it’s the body of work in medical school that gets you into residency. Research can be an integral part of an undergraduate medical education and some applicants to the more competitive specialties elect to participate in research in the specialty area to enhance their application. The bottom line is you are selling your best product – yourself.  

[Here are three ways to excel in medical residency interviews.]

Once your residency is complete, there is still a lot of work to be done. If you find yourself in a specialty you don’t enjoy, retraining is possible though it becomes more cumbersome the longer you have been out of school.  

It's wise to have an awareness of what types of interactions resonate with you while not putting pressure on yourself to identify a specialty from the first day of medical school.

Do not cloud your application process with thoughts of a specific specialty, as it may change a thousand times once you matriculate into medical school. It’s important to be open to all specialties and approach your education with an open mind to make an informed decision.