Question of the Week: When should I know my specialty?

March 17, 2023

Q: I know the medical student Match is today! Is it important to have an idea of your specialty before you start medical school?
A: You’ll frequently be asked about your vision for your future as a physician during medical school interviews, but your answer doesn’t need to focus on specialty. You’re often asked this question more to gauge how much you know about the profession more generally and what your priorities are. As you shadow and chat with physicians, it can help to ask them how they chose their specialty – based on their answers,  you’ll start to see what factors they describe that are important to you. Beyond specialty, it can help to have an idea of what practice setting you might want (urban academic medicine looks very different, for example, from rural private practice), what patient demographics are most interesting to you (e.g., underserved, immigrant, refugee, LGBTQIA, pediatric, veterans), whether you want to carve out some time outside of clinic for other activities (for example, research, leadership, mentorship, teaching, policy). As you shadow, try to find physicians who have similar interests or backgrounds to yours and see how they’ve shaped their careers. If you’re asked what your career vision looks like, it can help to draw from examples of physicians with whom you’ve interacted. That said, it can be fun to learn about all of the different specialties. The American Medical Association has some helpful resources collected on their website. And there are some medical schools that have opportunities to choose your residency and accelerate your path through medical school via a three-year program, so exploring your potential interest in specialties could result in finding your niche early and gaining admission in one of these programs.

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