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How to choose your medical specialty

  • December 17, 2018

One of the most difficult decisions you will make in your medical career is what medical specialty to pursue. There are over 60 specialties and more than 30 subspecialties to consider after foundation training – making it an extremely tough decision.

Many factors can go into your decision, such as your clinical interests, your experience during rotations and financial and lifestyle considerations. Although some medical students have decided what specialty they will pursue before finishing their undergraduate degree, most medical students and doctors change their minds several times before making the final decision.

Within this post, we provide you with our advice on how to choose and how not to choose your perfect specialty.


Before you start researching into different specialties you should consider what type of person you are. Think about your strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, your interests and your overall ambition. Do you have a social personality that prefers staying busy? Or do you prefer to work on detailed data and solve complex problems?

Questions to ask yourself…

1. Do you enjoy a lot of contact time with patients?

Most doctors will have patient contact unless they specialise exclusively in research and even then, they may sometimes deal with patients. However, certain specialties involve more patient contact than others.

If you do enjoy patient contact then you may consider Emergency Medicine, General Practice or Psychiatry – all specialties allowing you to spend time with your patients.

Alternatively, if patient contact is not one of your interests – then you may choose to specialise in Radiology or Pathology.

You may also want to ask yourself the question - which patients you enjoy spending the most time with? Some doctors have a love for working with children hence choosing Paediatrics or perhaps you have a love for the elderly leading them to specialise in Geriatrics.

2. Do you enjoy variety?

Some people prefer variety whilst working, whereas others prefer routine. If you would like to attend your shift and not know what patients you will be caring for, you could consider Emergency Medicine or General Practice. However, if you prefer a more structured work day you could consider Radiology or Ophthalmology.

3. How well do you work under stress?

Working under pressure is enjoyable for some and can often lead to them thriving in stressful situations. If you find this is yourself, you could consider a career in Emergency Medicine or Surgery where doctors regularly treat life-threatening conditions.

However, if you prefer a more relaxed and low-pressure environment you should consider General Medicine or Dermatology.

Ways of how not to choose your medical specialty

1. Pay - Medicine is not a career that should be entered into for financial gain. Choosing a particular specialty for satisfaction is much more important than the amount it will pay.

2. Competition – You should also try and pick your medical specialty based on your personality and interests rather than choosing a specialty that may be “easier to get into”. Please note, training applications differ year on year and thus although a senior has told you one particular specialty is competitive, it does not mean it will be true when it is your turn to apply.

3. Influence from others – During your time, you will hear a lot from family, friends and peers giving you advice on what medical specialty to choose. This can feel overwhelming, but it is important to listen to your own needs and desires.

Click here for a list of possible specialties.

If you are an IMG looking to relocate to the UK and work within the NHS, send your CV to [email protected] and one of our Specialist Advisers will be in touch.

Join our Facebook Group, IMG Advisor! Here, you will gain access to frequent relocation blog posts, the opportunity to ask questions and receive professional support and the chance to meet other IMGs!

References (2018). How and When to Choose a Medical Specialty | Kaplan. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Dec. 2018].

Price, J. (2018). 10 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing Your Medical Specialty. [online] Gap Medics US. Available at: [Accessed 17 Dec. 2018].


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