Choosing a Specialty

The best way to chose a specialty is to focus less on learning about different areas of medicine, and focus more on learning about yourself. Examine your personality, your ideal lifestyle, and your competencies, because these will ultimately determine your career happiness.

As first year med students, worrying too much about specialties can only have three results:

1. Distracts us from learning. Lets be real: we have enough on our plates right now without worrying about specialies. The key to learning at this level is focus, so limit the amount of energy you dedicate to hypothesizing about future possibilities. As a productive way to start exploring the specialties now, make your interactions with physicians count. Collect as many different views as possible so that one unhappy doc doesn’t poison your perception.

2. Generates unnecessary anxiety. There is a stigma in medicine against saying “I don’t know”, and it is easily translated into wanting certainty about our own futures. Especially when comparing ourselves to the kid who knew she wanted to be an anesthesiologist since she was four, we falter when we don’t know exactly what we are supposed to do. The relief valve for this kind of anxiety is in dismissing the notion that their is a “supposed to”. Assume there are a hundred different potential careers in which you’ll find fulfillment, not just one.

3. Closes our minds to possibilities. 99% of us will know exactly which specialty we want to apply to by the end of our third year, and we’ll arrive at that decision naturally and intuitively. But for now, it is not worth ruling anything out when we don’t have to, and we have yet to do a rotation in that field. Approach each rotation as if it is the specialty you are dying to join.

No matter what, we will be applying to residencies with very limited understanding of what life as a [blank] is actually like. There just isn’t enough time in med school to get the necessary depth and breadth of exposure. So a more realistic course of inquiry is to look for the big-picture questions instead of details about a specialty. Do you hate being woken up at night? Don’t be an ER doc. Do you desire long-term relationships with your patients? Then maybe the primary care specialties deserve more attention. Process of elimination can be a viable method, but only if you enter the process with a great deal of self-awareness.

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