Medical Specialties

Factors to consider in choosing a specialty

Choosing a specialty is the most exciting and challenging career decision a student makes in medical school. This decision is unique to each student and the choice is based on multiple factors. AAMC's Choices Newsletter has helpful information on specialty choices plus important information on getting into residency, and other career planning topics.

Take a moment and ask yourself very thoughtful questions about your specialty interest(s).

  • Lifestyle
    Every physician aspires to choose a specialty that will complement a desired professional and personal lifestyle. Have you researched specialty earning potential, length of training, scheduled/unscheduled on-call hours, time-off, benefits, or day to day work stressors?

  • Economics & Location, Location, Location…
    Specialties and subspecialties vary in compensation and reimbursement rates. A physician must consider how shortage areas impact demands for specialties and subspecialties. Have you compared compensation among various specialties? What geographic locations have you considered beginning your practice? How does compensation vary across the country? Is your specialty interest considered a shortage area? What type of area do you want to practice? Rural? Suburban? Metropolitan? Where will you be happy?

  • Patient Care
    Giving to others is the greatest gift one can give oneself. Many quantitative work studies have shown the most satisfying factor in physician practices is having professional and caring relationships with their patients. Physicians need to feel comfortable treating their patients to provide quality care. What patient populations do you see yourself working with on a daily basis? Pediatrics, Adolescents, Young Adults, Geriatrics? Acute, chronic, terminal patients? How much contact and involvement do you want to have with your patients day to day? Brief or long-term? Also, think about what extent you would need to interact with caregivers or agencies in coordinating patient care.

  • Technology
    Careers evolve rapidly due to changes in technology each year. At what level will you be required to keep up with technological advances to continue to practice? How will you keep abreast of cutting technology? How will this impact you financially or professionally?

  • Congruence
    Skills and abilities must correlate to specialty demands in order to be successful and satisfied with work loads. Nothing would be more of a disservice to a physician if they were frustrated by not being able to fulfill their professional skill potential or overwhelmed by continuous challenges. What are your inherent or learn skills and abilities? What are your perceived limitations? How can you maximize your potential to be an asset in your preferred specialty? How can you contribute?

  • Professional Colleagues & Work Environment
    The “Physician Work Life Survey” indicated an important aspect of having a good work environment is amicable relationships with professional colleagues. Do your personality preferences correlate to physicians practicing in your specialty interest? What type of practice size and setting appeals to you? Group? Solo? Hospitalist? Community? Do you prefer fast paced, stable or varied work environment? Permanent employment? Locum tenens?

  • Interests
    Physicians need to have a passion for their life’s work and drive to excel in their careers. Do your interests correlate with physicians practicing within your specialty interest? How? What other alternatives to traditional practice might you integrate into your medical career? Academician? Researcher? Humanitarian? Medical Illustrator? Consultant? Advocate?

  • Important People in Your Life & You
    Specialty choice decisions can be difficult and it is imperative to seek guidance from a trusted advisor and support persons. Talk it out. Decisions may need to be made with future considerations in mind. Do you plan to marry or share your life with a significant other? Are you planning to have a family someday? Do you now? How will relocation, finances, work demands, time constraints affect important people in your life? How do you plan to create a balance?


Helpful Websites and Online Assessments

Paper-Pencil Assessments

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
    • Please contact the CHM Career Coordinator to arrange test taking procedures and interpretation of scores with feedback
  • The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Medical Specialty, 2nd Ed.
    • Freeman, B. (2007). New York: Lange Medical Books, McGraw-Hill.
  • How to Choose a Medical Specialty
    • Taylor, A.D. (2003). Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company.
  • Getting Into Residency: A Guide for Medical Students
    • Iserson, K.V. (2003). Tucson, AZ: Galen Press.
  • Peterson’s Vital Signs: Working Doctors Tell the Real Story Behind Medical School and Practice
    • Bernal, D.L. (1994). Peterson’s Guides
Physician Compensation Surveys

National & State Workforce Data

Online Journals