Switching Specialties After Residency

June 18, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Switching Specialties After Residency: Should You Or Shouldn’t You?

Gap Medics students with their hospital mentor! Generally, because you would have already given it a lot of thought and then spent a considerable amount of time mastering your chosen specialty, changing directions after starting residency is not really an ideal situation. However, it is not unusual for students to feel, midway through their residency, that perhaps they’ve chosen the wrong specialty. What happens if you find yourself in that situation? If you’re unhappy in your program choice, should you stick with it or is it better to switch specialties? 

If you are contemplating making a move to another field, you will find that you are not alone. On average, about 10% of residents choose to switch their specialty each year. This is no easy decision however. Often this decision is fraught with feelings of self-doubt and isolation, made worse by the pressure to ‘hang in there’.

The truth is, there is no one right answer for every resident. Experienced medical educators often advise new interns and residents who are unhappy in their programs against making hasty decisions in this regard. According to them, the stress of adjusting to being a new resident or an intern, often in completely new surroundings, can be overwhelming and wanting to switch in the initial stages is not surprising. However, staying on with the program for a while is important to make a correct assessment of whether or not it is a correct fit. Often, with time to adjust to new responsibilities the specialty may turn out to be the right choice. 

On the other hand, with time, some residents and interns may come to realise that they aren’t just experiencing the intern blues. Instead, they may come to a more definite realisation that the specialty is just a bad fit for them and continuing with the program would be frustrating. Reaching this decision can be difficult by itself but if you reach the point where you are questioning your choice of specialty, it is far better to switch than to stay on and the sooner you do it the better. Before you take that final step however, it is advisable to speak to a few faculty members and advisors who you can trust to stay objective about your decision and give you sound advice about what to do next.   

After weighing up all of the options and you’ve made up your mind, the next thing you need to do is to speak to the program director. It can be very difficult to switch fields successfully without the support of the current program director, as you will need to apply for time off to attend interviews. Additionally, some programs will also ask for a letter from the director.

The decision to leave a residency program and switch specialties is never an easy one. The fear of not being able to find a new position and facing negative reactions from their current residency colleagues hold most residents back from switching fields. But for those who are convinced and who decide to take that final step and switch specialties, the benefits clearly outweigh all the inconveniences involved.