Specialty Profiles

3 medical specialties, 3 common misconceptions

When medical students are researching medical specialties, they may have surface-level beliefs about what those specialties entail. The deeper realities, however, often differ. There is no one better suited to give students a picture of the things they may overlook in certain specialties than the physicians practicing in those specialties.

The AMA’s Specialty Guide simplifies medical students’ specialty selection process, highlights major specialties, details training information and provides access to related association information. It is produced by FREIDA™, the AMA Residency & Fellowship Database®.

Three physicians elaborated on the common misconceptions that students may have about their specialties. Here’s a look at what they had to say.

Neurology is too complicated

“The first misconception is that it’s too complex,” said Rachel Salas, MD, a sleep neurologist who is also core clinical clerkship director at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “We don’t have the luxury of an eight-week clerkship to slow things down for students. But we have at least 28 subspecialties in our field, so I think another misconception is that being a neurologist is the end of the road—but our field is blooming. There’s so much opportunity to look at career fields people don’t think of like neurological palliative care or neurological geriatric care. …

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“We can cure certain neurological disorders,” Dr. Salas said. “There’s just more things that we can offer our patients than we used to and neurology really gives people many options where you can build relationships with patients.”

Psychiatrists are immune to mental-health bias

“Sometimes you can go into psychiatry and still have to work with the same sort of stigma and bias about people and mental illness within yourself,” said Karen Miotto, MD, a psychiatrist who is interim director of the Behavioral Wellness Center at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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“I hope it’s a misconception and I hope it’s part of the learning curve. Being a psychiatrist doesn’t make you immune to bias,” Dr. Miotto said. “I hope that, over time, trainees find the common humanity and compassion. In every medical specialty, part of the training is an us-and-them mentality, that otherness of who we treat and separating ourselves. That’s adoptive and important.”

Internal medicine residents make their biggest impact in the hospital

Hannah Moser, MD, a first-year internal medicine resident with intentions on subspecializing in gastroenterology. One misconception she had about life as an internal medicine resident is that primary care wasn’t going to be a significant part of her workload.

“The importance of being a primary care doctor as part of internal medicine residency training was a big surprise,” said Hannah Moser, who is doing her residency at California Pacific Medical Center.

“In every residency interview you learn about clinic, whether it’s continuous throughout the year or if it’s in stretches. As someone who came into medicine intending to go into a subspecialty, I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to having an outpatient clinic and being a primary care provider for a lot of patients, yet I love that aspect of training. It’s a tremendous responsibility, and I didn’t realize how much ownership I was going to feel over my panel of patients.”