Choosing a specialty is a critical decision. Not only will your choice impact your chances of making a residency match, but more importantly, it will impact your career in medicine for years to come. Here are some questions to ask yourself when choosing your specialty:
- What do I want to be doing from day to day? Hands-on patient interactions and counseling? Dealing with medical technology? Research and education?
- How do my skills line up with my desired specialty?
- What’s the job forecast like for my desired specialty?
Although it’s important to pick a specialty that you will like, it’s also important to be realistic about your odds of securing a match. The most popular and high-earning specialties frequently have the most competitive residency programs. Your faculty and clinical advisors can help you with an honest assessment of your academic performance, clinical strengths and exam scores. Talking to current residents and practicing physicians can give you insight into the specialties you are considering. Go into the decision process with an open mind—maybe a specialty that you had never considered before will be the one that best meets your career goals and residency match profile.
Once you have decided on a specialty, the next step is to research residency programs for potential application. There are several sources that can help you determine your selections:
- Your Becker residency advisor can help you identify programs that can match your goals and strong points.
- Talking to past residents can give you information on the day-to-day aspects of a particular location and assess if the program would be a fit for you.
- The Graduate Medical Education Directory (or the “Green Book”) and the online FREIDA database available through the American Medical Association contain program information by location and specialty, plus provide the ability to compare programs.
- The Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) residency directory provides program information by specialty and location.
- The AAFP online residency directory provides program information for family medicine residencies.
- NRMP Match results from the previous year can help you narrow down programs based on past competitiveness, including programs with high acceptance rates and ones that did not fill.
As a general rule, candidates should apply to a variety of programs, including hospital, university and community-based programs. The more competitive the specialty, the more programs you should apply to. Even if you are a strong candidate with top grades and high USMLE scores, it does not hurt to include a few less competitive programs for back up.