Picking a Medical Specialty

December 16, 2014
Emily Hause

Picking a Medical School SpecialtyWhat Kind of Doctor Are You Going To Be?

Hello my excited readers! Before you start medical school, when people ask you what you’re going to be when you grow up, you answer with the phrase, “a doctor.” Once you get into medical school, the question gets more specific and people ask what “kind” of doctor are you going to be and what medical specialty you’ll focus on. My standard response, since I’m a sassy-pants by nature is, “a good one, hopefully.” However, this is an important question, and at some point within the next three years, I’ll need to decide which residency program to apply for. Fortunately, I don’t have to commit any time soon, since there are a lot of factors to consider.

Picking a Medical Specialty

Today, I would like to elaborate on the fact that there are a few stereotypical types of medical students when it comes to thinking about what “kind” of doctor they’re going to be.

Type 1: Certain Sally

When you ask a Certain Sally which medical specialty they’re considering, they answer without hesitation. Derm! Surgery! Ortho! They’re generally going to commit to the more competitive specialties and the more highly paid specialties. They’ve have been waiting their whole lives to say, not only that they’re a doctor, but that they’re a dermatologist. To them, it’s painfully obvious which career they should have. For these folks, hanging around in a primary care clinic, as we’re all required to do during our first year, is a waste since they plan to avoid doing a complete physical exam for the entirety of their professional career. For the record, you can also get Certain Sally’s who choose more accessible specialties, but they’re less common.

Type 2: Waffling Walter

Whereas a Certain Sally knows exactly which medical specialty they want to go into, a Waffling Walter will oscillate between a few specialties. They may like family medicine this week, then surgery the next. Any time they go into a clinic, they immediately love the new specialty and cultivate a passion for that career path. Generally Walter’s preferences will tend toward whatever you happen to be studying that week.

We’ve been studying dermatology and rheumatology over the past few weeks and I know that several of my classmates who were previously gung-ho about infectious diseases like TB and the flu three weeks ago are now considering looking at rashes and moles or hanging out with lupus patients.

Type 3: Negative Nancy

Negative Nancy will generally have some idea of which specialty they’d like to choose, but more importantly they know what they do not want. Things like- OB/Gyn: too many pregnant women and babies, Surgery: no awake patient interaction, Radiology: too much potential for napping while you’re supposed to be working- quickly get crossed off the list as soon as they’re considered. They will keep a running list of previously rejected specialties. For a Negative Nancy, the medical specialty selection process is basically composed of the five or so specialties that don’t get immediately rejected and deciding which of those five is the most acceptable career in medicine.

So, I’ve made it to the end of this column and haven’t yet alluded to what “kind” of doctor I’d like to be. I’d love to do something in pediatrics. The common response after I say that is, “Oh, I can see that” or “That makes sense” which I suppose means that other people think peds is a good place for me too. Until recently, I thought that I wanted to do general peds, but somewhat like a Waffling Walter, I am intrigued by rheumatology and am toying with the idea of combining the two specialties and becoming a pediatric rheumatologist. Also, like a Negative Nancy, I have a good list of specialties that are populating the “no, thank you” bin. If you see me talking about becoming a surgeon, dermatologist, radiologist, oncologist, urologist or psychiatrist, I’m clearly joking as those have been summarily crossed off my list.

We want to hear from you! Have you already started thinking about the kind of doctor that will lead you to living your version of the “good life”…besides a good one of course? Tell us in the comments.

One way pre-meds can start getting a feel for possible areas of interest is through medical extracurricular activities.  This will also help you in the medical school application process, as medical schools want to be assured that you really know what medicine is all about.

Visit our Unlock the Good Life site to find out more about a career in medicine. Learn about salaries, read profiles of successful people, and see how far a higher MCAT score can take you.

Happy studying,


Emily Hause

Emily Hause Emily has been a teacher for Kaplan for over six years; she's taught MCAT, ACT, SAT, SAT2 and tutored pretty much every subject under the sun in both the classroom and live online (aka Classroom Anywhere) settings. She's also worked for Kaplan in content development and teacher mentorship roles. Emily is currently a second-year medical student at the University of Colorado and is hoping to go into Pediatrics. She's involved in many campus opportunities such as being a Prospective Student Representative, admissions committee member, CU-UNITE member, and co-president of the Education and Teaching Interest Group. Prior to medical school, Emily got a BA in Biochemistry and Spanish from Lawrence University and a Masters in Public Health- Epidemiology from the University of Minnesota. In her free time, Emily enjoys dancing, baking, playing tennis and exploring her new Colorado home.

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