Roadmap to Choosing the Right Specialty for Your Residency

Roadmap to Choosing the Right Specialty for Your Residency

Jul 20, 2020 Published by Kathrin O'Neill

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Whether you’re still entering med school or finishing your fourth year, finding the right specialty for your residency is a major decision in your professional career as a doctor. Your decision could be based on your interests, rotation experience, financial and lifestyle factors, and length of training.

Some students may have already decided what specialty to pursue before entering medical school. For others, their decisions usually come after completing a rotation. While for others still, it could be a struggle to find the right specialty to pursue even after graduating. If you’re confused as to what to pursue, here are some guidelines to help you narrow down your choices and pursue the one that fits best.

Surgical or non-surgical

Filtering your choices from surgical to non-surgical is easier compared to streamlining from a wide spectrum of specialties. You can also make use of your rotation experience to streamline your choice, particularly on daily routines, activities, and schedules.

FREIDA is a good source of information to look into to help you understand further these specialties and sub-classifications. It could also give you a glimpse as to the lifestyle you’ll likely adapt, patients you’d get to interact with, as well as fellowship and specialty training.

Developing the right skills set

While lifestyle and pay are important factors to consider, the right skills set are important before choosing a specialty. Avoid pursuing specialties that are not within your interest or abilities as this may prolong your search.

Orthopedics and surgery are two of the most lucrative and sought after specialties. However, you need to assess whether your skills are up to par. To test whether the specialty you’re pursuing is the right one for you, ask your school if they offer a simulation center for a hands-on experience in a medical setting. You may be able to assess from here whether your current pick is the right fit for your skillset.

Activities you’ll likely engage in

As mentioned, lifestyle can play a big role in cultivating long-term interest in a program. When you become a resident doctor, does your schedule allow you to pursue non-medical activities such as research, policy work, or teaching? Activity options are usually determined by the medical setting and demands on your schedule to accomplish a certain specialty. Do some investigating on physicians practicing the specialty you plan to pursue to calibrate whether it’s the kind of lifestyle you can adapt long-term.

Gain experience

You can gain experience by shadowing an attending physician in the specialty you’re considering. Compared with internships, externships last roughly around a month. Some hospitals allow externships for doctors who’d like to participate and learn more about the specialty they are pursuing.

However, if your schedule does not permit this, try looking for specialty clubs offered by your school. Take advantage of free lectures to get exposure to various disciplines. Senior physicians may come in for fellowship and talk about their practice and work. You need to be decided in pursuing a specific specialty before joining a club for an easier transition.

Look into the availability and culture of the specialty you’re pursuing

Medical specialties shift according to the demands and availability of jobs according to the specialties medical graduates will go for. Factors such as gender may also affect your choice of specialty so it’s important to talk with advisers and physicians about the culture and disciplines of your chosen practice. This will give you an overview of the lifestyle, schedule, and environment of the specialty you’re pursuing.

You may also speak with the residency program directors for additional insights. They are the best people to ask about the working environment and culture of the program they’re handling.

Find a backup specialty

This may be difficult for some graduates to accept. However, you must create a back-up plan in case your primary one doesn’t work.

It’s vital to get as much exposure from your chosen specialty. But if it’s not something you might not want to pursue any longer, a back-up specialty might come in handy especially if your primary choice belongs in a competitive field.

Applying for at least 20 programs could be a good benchmark. Fields like orthopedic surgery and urology are highly competitive and the odds of getting a match could be lower. This would require high test scores, commendable letters of recommendation, and exceptional experience in that specialty could get the attention of program directors.

Seek out mentors

This is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of looking for the right specialty for you. Mentors and close colleagues might be able to give you feedback about your strengths and skills. Just be mature when they disclose to you their insights.