How to choose a medical specialty

For a doctor, few decisions impact your life as much as choosing a medical field of medicine to specialize in. From deciding your day-to-day life to governing your relationship with yourself and the people around you, this is the one verdict that influences not only your future but also your present.

5 tips to choosing the right field of medicine for yourself

Making the choice early on has numerous benefits to it. You get more time to prepare yourself for life beyond graduation, you know what to expect from the future, and you can actively follow mentors during med school to give yourself a headstart for your residency.

However, as many advantages as there are to it, making up your mind about specializing in medicine is not easy. Most pre meds and first year medical students do not have an idea of where to begin when asked their choice of field to specialize in. This is why we asked senior medical students, residents, and consultant doctors advice on making this all-important decision. Here is what they had to say.

Explore different fields of medicine and identify your clinical interests

It is easy to get overwhelmed by all the various fields of medicine. With so many options in front of you, deciding on one becomes inundating. So, choose ten.

Instead of trying to figure out which field you want to pursue for the rest of your life, lessen the burden on yourself and pick out ten fields of medicine that interest you. Use electives, shadowing programs, and educational seminars to facilitate your decision. Employ the elimination method to cross off the things that do not spark your interest.

Attend every medical conference, seminar, and webinar that you can to know more about the different fields of medicine. Seek advice from your seniors and reflect on your clinical interests. Once you do all that and shortlist 10 potential specialties for yourself, you will notice that picking the one does not seem so formidable anymore. This is because you are not so consumed with the number of possibilities, and have explored each field to an extent to know if it interests you.

When specializing in medicine, take the timeline into account

Medical education is neverending. From the time you enter medical school, you have basically signed away your life to degrees, certifications, exams, and more exams. Though you may begin medical school with all the energy in the world, it is not uncommon to start to burn out as you near graduation. The interest on your student loans keeps building up, the desire to start a family starts kicking in, and you begin to wish for a stable stream of income to achieve all you want in life.

Hence, it is important to reflect on the timeline of whatever residency program you choose. Consider the number of years it will take to start practicing independently in each field you are interested in. Calculate how much time you are willing to put in your training years before embarking on your residency journey.

Think about the type of patients you are likely to get in each field of medicine

Another very important consideration to choosing a medical specialty is the patient population you can expect in that field. If you do not like working amongst children, pediatrics is just not for you. Similarly, you cannot opt for gynae and obs if you are not especially interested in women’s health.

Think of the type of patients that you naturally get along with and enjoy the company of. Since you will be spending much of your time with this patient population, it is worth it to establish that you enjoy working on them.

Imagine a regular day in your field of interest

Perhaps the greatest thing that you should pay heed to when deciding on your future field of medicine is what it is like everyday.

Choosing your specialty should not be a spur of the moment decision influenced by an interesting case you saw at the hospital, or read about in literature. Instead, it should be based on what the regular day-to-day in the field of your choice looks like.

What is the work life balance that you can expect from this field? How much is the average pay in this specialty? What is the work environment like? These are the questions that should govern your decision.

Take your field of interest out for a test drive

Finally, get plenty of experience in your field of interest before you seal the deal. Sign up for electives in different hospitals that let you try out working as the medical specialist that you want to be. Get into research to see what the academic side of the field is like. Do an internship in the related department if you need to to get more hands-on experience. Only when you are truly certain about your choice should you make your decision final.

Wrapping it up

Deciding on a medical specialty to pursue is difficult, and has unending consequences on your future. Hence, you should give it plenty of thought before you finalize your choice. Do not panic seeing the number of doors open to you – instead, consider it a good thing. With so many options, you know there is at least one shoe that fits you perfectly. With a systematic approach, you are bound to end up in the field of medicine that suits you best