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Choosing a Medical Specialty

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Choosing a specialty is a career-defining decision. These steps help medical students choose a specialty and learn what needs to be done during medical school to enter the training program of their choice. The AMA suggests researching all specialties of interest and beginning early, relying on specialty program data for guidance, staying up to date on medical school and residency news and downloading "Choosing a Specialty: An AMA Resource for Medical Students."

Research All Specialties of Interest and Begin Early

  • Use career guides to explore the specialties. Look for guides with facts and figures related to work-life balance, such as salary and vacation days.
  • Join special-interest clubs or organizations at school.
  • Contact physicians in specialties of interest and ask to shadow them.
  • Read the AMA Wire’s® "Shadow Me" Specialty Series to see how physicians spend their days and handle the most challenging aspects of patient care.

Rely on Specialty Program Data for Guidance

Specialty program data can show the competitiveness of admissions to certain residencies. Statistics, such as the desired USMLE® Step 1 score for an interview, can also help guide studies during medical school.

Download Choosing a Specialty: An AMA Resource for Medical Students (PDF, members only) to research the primary specialties and subspecialties. The guide is free for AMA members. Learn more about becoming an AMA member in our membership section.

Gain insight into:

  • How to choose a specialty and when
  • How competitive the admission to each specialty’s residency is
  • The residency application timeline
  • The daily challenges faced in each specialty
  • What the residency work environment and compensation are like
  • The additional career paths that are available
  • Data which provides number of 1st year graduate applicants in 2014 by specialty1: Emergency medicine: 2,322 and Family medicine: 5,999.

1Data from 2014 NRMP Main Residency Match

Stay Up to Date on Medical School and Residency News

Keep aware of changes to residency programs and their requirements. This will allow you to adjust specialty research and studies accordingly.

  • Search FREIDA Online®, the AMA Residency & Fellowship DatabaseTM, for current and comprehensive listings of more than 10,000 graduate medical programs. The dashboard feature allows you to save, rate, track and compare preferred programs (AMA members only, sign in required).
  • Follow the AMA Wire for the latest student and resident news.
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