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How to Choose a Medical Specialty

Choosing a medical specialty is a career- and life-defining decision. Follow these steps to help you decide which medical specialty is right for you and to learn what you need to do during medical school to enter your specialty training program of choice.

1. Research All Specialties That Interest You, and Begin Early

  • Use specialty and career guides to explore the specialties that interest you. Rely on guides with facts and figures related to work-life balance, such as salary and vacation days.
  • Join special-interest clubs or organizations at your school.
  • Contact physicians in specialties that interest you to schedule shadow visits.
  • Read the AMA Wire’s “Shadow Me” Specialty Series for a look at how physicians spend their days and how they handle the most challenging aspects of patient care.

“Choosing a Medical Specialty”—A Guide on What to Expect from Nearly 50 Specialties and Subspecialties

AMA Guide to Choosing a Medical Specialty

Free for AMA Members

Download “Choosing a Medical Specialty

Become an AMA Member

“Choosing a Medical Specialty” is a simplified guide designed to ease your research of the primary specialties and subspecialties. Gain insight into:

  • How to choose a specialty and when
  • How competitive the admission to each specialty’s residency is
  • What daily challenges you would face in each specialty
  • What the residency work environment and compensation are like
  • What additional career paths are available

2. Rely on Specialty Program Data for Guidance

Specialty program data can help you determine the competitiveness of admission to certain residencies. Data, like the average USMLE® Step 1 score that programs desire for a residency interview, can also help guide your studies during medical school. Find the data below and more in “Choosing a Medical Specialty.”

Specialty Number of first-year-graduate applicants in 20141
Emergency medicine 2,322
Family medicine 5,999

1 Data from 2014 NRMP Main Residency Match

3. Stay Up-to-Date on Medical School and Residency News

Keep aware of changes to residency programs and their requirements so you can adjust your specialty research and your studies as necessary.

  • Search FREIDA Online®—the AMA’s free database of residency and fellowship programs—for current, comprehensive views of nearly 10,000 graduate medical programs. Use the dashboard feature to save, rate, track and manage your preferred programs (AMA members only).
  • Follow the AMA Wire for the latest student and resident news.