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Which Area of Medicine to Specialise in

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 11 Oct 2010 | comments*Discuss
Medicine Surgery Children Pathology

As medical students progress through their program, the question of which specialty to take becomes an increasingly important one.

Not only that, but the pressure to choose the right specialty in medicine and surgery can be overwhelming and in some cases, very competitive.

It can be an intense challenge to choose the best specialty for you while also ensuring that you obtain residency training in your preferred area.

Before being too hasty in your decision-making, however, it's a good idea to go over some important points that can help you make the best choice for your training in medicine and ultimately, for your success in your chosen health career. In this way, you will enjoy and excel in your residency and may even go on to specialise further in your chosen therapeutic area.

Think About Tastes and Interests

At the end of the day, you are the one who has to finish your work; experiencing a good or bad work shift can be largely dependent on your own areas of interest in medicine. For those who have chosen to become medical doctors rather than one of the many other health careers such as nursing, choosing a medical specialty is a big decision.

If you enjoy children, for instance, then you might consider working in paediatrics. If you are committed to women's health and fertility, then you might find gynaecology to be a good choice. Whether your interest is pathology, urology or one of many other specialties, there are some important questions to ask when deciding on a specialty in medicine. Try asking yourself:
  • Does the specialty provide the lifestyle and working hours you desire?
  • Is the compensation sufficient for your needs?
  • What are the future prospects for your specialty?
  • Is this something you can see yourself doing for a living or just an area to specialise in for your
  • residency training?
  • Is the intensity and time commitment realistic for your capabilities?
  • Do you enjoy the specialty?

Different Medical Specialties

If you are still in the early stages of your medical training or perhaps have yet to begin medical school but want to contemplate a specialty in medicine now, you may be unfamiliar with the different specialty areas in medicine. Some of the more common medical specialties are:

  • Anaesthesiology
  • Cardiology
  • Family Practice
  • Gastroenterology
  • Nephrology
  • Neurology
  • Obstetrics/Gynaecology
  • Psychiatry
  • Radiology
  • Surgery
  • Urology

Taking an Online Test

Some universities and career sites are now offering tests to help you assess which area of medicine is the best one for a specialty career. While it is probably not wise to rely solely on this kind of test, it can still be a very helpful way to gain a better understanding of your strengths and limitations in the field of medicine as well as where you tend to enjoy working the most.

Lifestyle Factors and Compensation

One of the most important factors – besides liking the medical area – to consider when choosing a medical specialty is whether the lifestyle conditions are satisfactory for your needs. Surgeons, for instance, work some of the longest days of any specialty. They spend a great deal of time assessing patients and a lot of skilled, focused time in surgery. Alternately, dermatologists and ophthalmologists typically are considered more relaxed specialties compared with surgery. They have significantly shorter hours, little on-call and high salaries.

Trust Yourself

Above all, trust your own gut feeling about what area of medicine is best for you. While the financial rewards of some of the 'hot' specialty fields such as dermatology may initially seem appealing, if your own passion for the subject matter isn't there, you will be miserable and dread work each day.

Your medical career will probably be a major part of your life for many years and the last thing you want is to feel tied down in a specialty that makes you unhappy. Still, you should be aware that you can change to another specialty eventually but it is a lengthy process that is best avoided by taking care in choosing the right specialty.

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