Choosing a specialty that’s right for you involves comparing your self-assessment results with the information you’ve collected about different specialties. Often there will be several options that could bring you high levels of career satisfaction and success, and the exploration activities you’ve completed should help you identify those specialties. Now it’s time to evaluate your options and make a decision.
There is no ‘magic formula’ to decision-making. This is especially true when deciding on something as important as your career path. Different people have different strategies for making important decisions. Some use a systematic approach such as weighing the pros and cons…and some use a spontaneous approach by choosing whatever intuitively feels right at the time.
Use what has worked in the past
Think about important decisions you have already made, and list the strategies you employed that helped in making those decisions. For example, how did you decide which college to attend? You may have had conversations with family and alumni; you may have visited campuses or reviewed catalogs. Whatever strategies have worked before should be a part of your decision-making game plan now.
Talk it over
Get together with your residency counselor to talk about your options. What is your thinking about the specialty you’re interested in, and how confident are you in your decision? How competitive are you for the specialty(s) you are considering? Are you being realistic? Discuss your specialty choice with the people you trust — they may be able to provide useful ideas and opinions. While the choice is ultimately yours, having others who know you and who can provide feedback can be very useful.
Write it out
Try writing a personal statement for each of the specialties you’re considering. Is one more difficult to write? Is it easier to articulate why you want to be in one specialty versus another? If you’re having a difficult time writing about your specialty choice, you may have some more thinking to do. Remember that program directors and faculty may ask you how and why you chose your specialty. So, being able to articulate how you fit and what you want out of your career will not only help you make this decision, but also help in the residency application and interview process.
Be aware of the implications of switching specialties
The most common reasons residents primarily switch is because they a) realize their initial choice is not as interesting as another specialty, or b) desire a different lifestyle, level of flexibility, or income. And while you’re not trapped, the decision to switch is a serious one. One reason, at least right now, is that the funding you receive for your graduate medical education is based on the length of the initial residency program. If you change specialties after entering residency, and the length of residency is longer for the new specialty, your stipend may not be available for those additional years. This may not be an issue for some residency programs, but it is something to consider. Another implication is the added training time and logistical issues involved with switching, so the more thought and realistic analysis you put into this decision now, the less likely you will need to switch specialties later.
Trust your judgment
Although it can be difficult to change specialties once you’re in residency, it’s certainly possible. The most important thing you can do at this point is to trust that you’ve analyzed the important characteristics you want out of your medical career and researched specialties you think will give you professional satisfaction. You’ve made important decisions before, and you can make this one now. Once you make a choice, don’t second-guess it; you know yourself best. Remember, this decision doesn’t have to be set in stone. Analyze all the information you’ve gathered, discuss it with trusted advisors, and move forward.
Before making this decision, it is a good idea to review your Careers in Medicine progress. Take a look at your personal profile and compare it with information you gathered in your specialty exploration. Is there a specialty that compares more favorably with your CiM results and is something you’d like to consider more closely? Do you need to review other specialties before going further or are you ready to make this decision? Your residency counselor and any specialty contacts you have made may help guide your next steps. You may also want to retake some of the self-assessment exercises. Your experiences will influence your thinking about yourself and where you fit into medicine — it’s always good to have current and accurate information.
The CiM Choosing Your Specialty exercise can also assist you in making this decision. It helps you compare your assessment results with the information you’ve learned about specialty options. It’s not a matching system, but rather an exercise to assist you in thinking objectively about this decision. Contact Melva Landrum to request a CiM token to access all of the AAMC self-assessment exercises.
Also check out these helpful videos featuring Dr. Kenneth Iserson, author of Iserson’s Getting Into A Residency, A Guide for Medical Students