There are students who already know exactly what they want to do upon entering medical school. Some realize late, like a few semesters before graduating, that they want to specialize on a specific area of concentration. There are even those who’ve already chosen a field but might suddenly want to change specialties. It’s okay to be unsure. Deciding what you want to do can be a difficult decision because you will invest considerable time and effort into something that you will probably do for the rest of your life.
The human body is made up of complex organs that are capable of processes that keep people alive, and there are specific areas of medicine dedicated to studying those organs and processes. Today, there are more than 50medical specialties to choose from, and the list could continue to grow as the science of medicine advances.
The wide selection of career paths can make it hard for a prospective doctor to choose the right specialty. If you’re experiencing this challenge yourself, you might want to consider these factors:
- Your work-life balance
Think about the hours that a job will demand from you and how this can affect your life outside of work. Most medical practitioners spend a good portion of their time at work, as the job usually calls for long shifts. All doctors battle stress often, so it’s important to know the signs of burn out in any field of medicine to keep your well-being in check and to maintain a healthy work-life balance. If you value free time and want to have more control of your hours, then consider going for specialties like ophthalmology , reproductive endocrinology, or dermatology, where schedules tend to be more predictable.
However, if you enjoy challenges and variety at work, then a surgical field might be your cup of tea. Surgical specialties usually have unpredictable and long hours spent in operating rooms.
- Your area of interest
Think about the diseases, organ and systems, and physiological processes you find interesting. If you find the human brain to be exciting to study, then perhaps a specialty in neuroscience would fit you. If you’re interested in the workings of hormones, then endocrinology is probably the best fit for you,
Also consider the type of work you like and can handle. As mentioned, certain specialties like orthopedics, plastic surgery, or neurosurgery involve surgical processes and are not for the squeamish. If you prefer to not handle a scalpel every day, then a field that is more diagnostic in nature such as pathology, radiology, or public health might be more your speed.
- Consider the people you’ll encounter and work with
Some people want to treat a particular group. Do you want to help children, adults, elderly people, women, men, or people living with psychiatric challenges.? Knowing which specific patient demographic you want
to focus on can help you narrow down your choice.
Some fields will also require you to meet and interact with patients a lot. If you enjoy communicating and spending time with patients, then being a family doctor will suit you. Psychiatrics, on the other hand, will also allow you to listen and talk to patientswhile trying to find a way to treat their conditions.
If you aren’t a people person, then you can choose to be a researcher or a physician that mostly deals with diagnostics instead. Specializing in areas like radiology and pathology will give you almost zero patient interaction, as you’ll spend more time researching or analyzing data.
- The time you’ll spend studying and training
To enter medical school, you have to finish a four year pre-med course, and then another four years will be spent in medical school. Afterwards, you get to pick a specialization, which will determine the length of years you’ll devote to residency or fellowship for training. Residency typically lasts for at least three years.
Of course, there are certain fields that have shorter or longer residency periods compared to others. Diagnostic or general medicine fields like family practice usually takes three years while surgical specialties like neurosurgery require about seven years of residency.
After going over these factors, you may have gotten a clearer picture of what type of doctor you want to be. Still uncertain? Don’t hesitate to ask for advice from physicians you know or consult medical career resources online. It’s your future career on the line, after all.