Choosing a specialty

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

“So do you know what you want to specialise in?” This can be a very daunting question that often leaves students baffled and stressed. There is no doubt that this is a very important decision and it can be nerve wracking to think about. It is very common for medical students to change their specialty preferences throughout their time in medical school and so it is important to always remember to keep an open mind and allow yourself to experience each specialty during your journey through medical school. It is also important to remember that you do not have to make this decision now and there is no need to fret about not having a fixed specialty in mind. There are a few key aspects medical students tend to consider when deciding on a specialty.


It is very common for medical students to change their specialty preferences throughout their time in medical school and so it is important to always remember to keep an open mind and allow yourself to experience each specialty during your journey through medical school.

1. Compensation Although there are differences in compensation between specialties and having a good income is important, it is good to take into account that this path you choose will be long term and should also be based on what you enjoy doing and whether you can picture yourself working in that field long term.



2. Work life balance

Different people will have different interests and that can often determine your longevity in a speciality.

As you progress through your medical career, it gets easier to see the importance of maintaining a happy and healthy lifestyle. It is often perceived that surgical based specialties have a higher burnout rate than non-surgical specialties. However, this may not necessarily be true for everyone. Different people will have different interests and that can often determine your longevity in a speciality.


3. Patient interaction Though almost all specialties involve some degree of patient interaction, specialities such as radiology and pathology have a relatively lesser degree of patient interaction as compared to General Practice, for example. Medicine being a long term career path requires students to understand themselves and what environment they would like to work in many years down the line.



4. Area of clinical interest (Medical vs Surgical or a mix of both) Medicine is a long term career option and choosing your speciality is one of the first steps that will determine the rest of your career. According to many physicians, the majority chose their specialisation based on what area or clinical practice they are interested in. Deciding what you are interested in may be difficult when there are so many fields in medicine so it is equally important to take note of what you do not want to do. A few things to think about include:

- Surgery or Medicine? - Anatomy or Physiology? - Which organ system are you interested in? - What patient group are you interested in treating?

Though this is a daunting decision to make, speaking to colleagues as well as physicians about how they chose their speciality and what they may have done differently can help students get a more realistic and holistic view on potential future career paths. It is also very important to realise that you do not have to make that decision now. Personally, as a 4th year medical student myself, I am still struggling to make that decision so it is vital to remember that these decisions should not be rushed as it is a significant one. Take full advantage of the time you have in medical school to think about what you are passionate about and hopefully the decision will come almost naturally!

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