There are many paths that medical students can pursue in their careers. During medical school, students can choose a specialty to study. This specialty will allow students the opportunity to pursue a particular career in medicine. Choosing a specialty can be overwhelming as it dictates the path a medical student’s career may take. If you’re a medical student looking to choose a specialty, here are some tips and insights to help in the decision-making process.

Figure Out Your Interests

Some students come into medical school knowing what specialty they want to go into. Others switch it up and try many different areas before ultimately deciding on what specialty they want to pursue. The first place to start when deciding on your specialty is to narrow down your interests.

While in school, you may realize there is a specific part of the body that fascinates you, even if you never imagined working on that as part of your career. You can figure out your interests based on your courses or the different rotations that you’ve tried. You may even volunteer at hospitals and realize that you enjoy the day-to-day work of those that you shadow.

Once you find what you’re interested in, you can begin to explore what careers align with those interests. This is when you can learn about what those jobs entail, the compensation of those jobs, and the details of what goes into obtaining a specialty for that career. You’ll have to complete a residency for the specialty you find interesting and can learn more about compensation during residency in this helpful guide.

Type of Specialty

Once you narrow down your interests, you’ll have to figure out what type of specialty you would like to pursue. There are three main types of specialties, surgical, medical, and mixed specialties. Surgical specialties involve doing procedures on patients. Some specialties focus just on doing procedures like orthopedics or neurosurgery.

Mixed specialties involve a combination of doing procedures and working with patients on medical issues. Commonly mixed specialties are anesthesiology and obstetrics.

Medical specialties don’t deal with procedures but rather work with patients directly on their medical needs. Medical specialties are careers like internal medicine, psychiatry, and neurology.

Each specialty will work best for different types of people and will have very different paths. You’ll want to look into the amount of time each residency takes to complete and what type of training you’ll need to get for what you would like to pursue.

The type of specialty you choose will also help determine how much patient contact you’ll have. If you primarily want to work closely with patients, choosing more medical-focused specialties like internal and family medicine will allow for that. If you want a minimal amount of patient contact something like pathology might be more up your alley.

Life Outside of Work

Another important aspect of choosing a specialty is how to balance your personal life outside of work. You want to make sure that you are choosing a specialty that you are passionate about and can do more research on in the future.

You may also feel that work-life balance is very important. Some specialties will take up much more of your time than others. Some specialties will also require you to be on call or work extended hours. Working as a family medicine physician could allow you to set a standard of 9-5 hours. While working as an on-call surgeon could see you getting ready for the OR in the middle of the night. One of the best ways to figure out if a certain specialty will make the most sense for you and your lifestyle is to talk to those who already work in those specialties. 

Experts in the field will be able to outline what it’s actually like to work in the specialty that you’d follow. If you can tell that the lifestyle of those colleagues won’t work for you, you can talk to people in other specialties and figure out what aligns the best for you.


Choosing a specialty is no easy task. Figuring out your career path requires a bit of research and checking in with your own interests and goals. Specialties will require you to do residencies and learn from experts before starting your career in medicine. It is possible to switch specialties down the line, but choosing one during medical school can set you up for a successful medical career.


Kenny is the founder and editor-in-chief of TheTalka. He launched the site in 2019.

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