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Tips to Choose Your Specialty

Something unexpected happened in my third year of medicine: I fell in love with surgery. When I applied to medical school, I wanted to specialize in either Internal Medicine or Family Medicine. I liked the idea of having a broad knowledge to help patients, and those were the specialties that I had some exposure to before school. But then I did my surgery rotation for clerkship. I went into it thinking I might end up liking it and that it would be a valuable learning experience. I came out of it 10 weeks later knowing that I’m meant to do surgery.


Whether you’re in medical school or trying to choose what program you’re going to apply for, it’s imperative to think about what you want to do. That doesn’t mean you have to have everything figured out. It just means thinking about what you like, what you don’t like, and deciding what factors are important to you for making that decision.


I came across an article in Psychology Today about How to Figure Out What You Want in Life. I recommend giving it a read for a general framework. The author’s Ted Talk is worth the watch for some good motivation.


I have a few tips of my own for figuring things out:


1. Experience a variety of options


This is my number one recommendation because it’s exactly what I didn’t do. I thought I was going into a medical rather than a surgical specialty, so I geared all of my observerships and electives in first and second year towards Internal Medicine. I enjoyed them, but in retrospect I would have benefited from exposure to things I didn’t know I liked. There’s something awesome about discovering something you love.


2. Talk to people in the profession


My motto in life is that everyone has something to teach. I’ve reached out to a number of people to ask about what they like and don’t like about their professions. Fortunately, every single person I’ve reached out to has been willing to answer my questions.


3. Find a mentor


If you know what you might want, it’s a great idea to find a mentor in the field who can guide you through the application process. Again, just reach out to someone you admire and see if they will take you under their wing. Forbes has an article all about How to Find a Great Mentor.


4. Learn about yourself


Before medical school I knew that I love helping people to live a better life and achieve their goals, that I need variety in my career, and that I thrive in a team environment. Try writing down some of the things you value, and deal breakers that you know you absolutely don’t want.


5. Try to WOOP (so helpful!)


WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacles and Plan. It’s a science-based practice that helps you reach your goals. I can say this from experience. I first learned about it through the Science of Well-Being course, which I wrote about in one of our blog posts. I’ve applied it to help me stick with multiple goals. For instance, I did WOOP (WOOPed?) in September about my goal to cut back to one cup of coffee a day. I’ve been successful since then, despite being unsuccessful with this in the past. You can learn all about WOOP here.


That’s it for now. Good luck!