November 5, 2014
Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.
Residency specialty selection is done sometime between the third and fourth year at medical school. As a medical student, this is one of the biggest decisions that you will have to make because it will in dictate how you spend the rest of your life. Not only will your specialty determine how much money you make and your lifestyle, it will also determine whether you will spend your working hours doing something you love or whether you dread the thought of another day at work. Sure, it is possible to change your specialty at any stage during your career but it means that you have wasted a whole lot of time and effort in your earlier residency and now you have to go back and redo it.
Spending some time on making this crucial choice will save you a lot of time, money and heartache. Here are some factors you should take into consideration while choosing your specialty.
Do you have a genuine interest in the specialty or are you drawn towards it because of the perceived glamour associated with it or perhaps because of the money making potential of the specialty? Both of these factors are unlikely to sustain your interest for too long. Money may give you happiness up to a point but after that you will find that it is more important to actually enjoy your specialty. Some doctors may enjoy family practice where they get to know patients and their problems but you may find you prefer the challenge of high pressure surgeries and being able to save a person’s life on an operating table. Figure out what you enjoy doing and use this as the basic criteria to choose a specialisation. With this as your base consideration, you can explore the other aspects.
Your lifestyle is another significant factor when it comes to choosing a specialty. Always keep in mind that you are probably going to be in this specialty for life so it makes sense to think long term. Will this specialty let you have a family life? Do you think it is worth giving up a regular family life to pursue a high-pressure specialty such as cardiology where emergency calls are unavoidable? If for you, family time takes precedence, then you should strike out all high-pressure specialties and instead consider one where emergencies are few and far between and you can essentially set your own work hours. The pay may be lower but the other factors make up for it.
Your residency may be a means to an end but it is still important to consider the time spent in the residency itself. Some residencies may be a lot more challenging than others and might last longer. Are you up for this? Will you be okay working round the clock for a longer period of time before you become a fully-fledged doctor? Only consider more challenging specialisations such as surgery if you are sure you can handle a longer and tougher residency period. If not, it may be better to consider a specialty that will have a slightly lighter workload.