Choosing a specialty: A primer for medical students

Choosing a medical specialty is one of the most important decisions that you’ll face in your medical career. Unfortunately, you might have to go through a lot of confusion, frustration, and uncertainty to get to that decision.

“You should go into pediatrics. You love kids!”

“Ophthalmologists make a good living, and they get to spend time with their family.”

“You have the hands of a surgeon. What’s there to think about?”

By now, you’ve probably heard a lot of “helpful” advice from family and friends. But ultimately, you need to be the one to decide what path you career will take. Finding a specialty that suits you is a process of assessing your strengths and weaknesses, and identifying the lifestyle, intellectual challenge, and research potential—among other factors—that agree with you. When you find a specialty that meets all these factors, you’ve found the perfect match.

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Subspecialty fellowship training

At the beginning of your PGY-2 year, a conscious decision about fellowship training should be made. If you decide to pursue subspecialty training, this is the time to make contacts with programs to obtain information and set up interviews. Most residents will interview after December of their PGY-2 year. This should be kept in mind when arranging your PGY-2 schedule. You will want to use elective time to interview, and you may actually wish to arrange a clinical rotation at the fellowship site.

Some programs abide by the subspecialty match offered through the National Residency Matching Program (NRMP), but many do not. Check with the NRMP to determine which programs participate, and read the content related to the guidelines and timetable. Program and Applicant Agreements are available in December for a fellowship start date in July, 18 months later. Strict adherence to the timetable is required, and no exceptions are allowed. This site also has useful information on which programs filled and did not fill through the match.

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