Choosing your medical specialty is a huge decision which requires diligent research and lots of personal reflection. While it isn’t impossible, it’s just much easier to get it right the first time around! Check out what Laura Henry, a third-year medical student at UPenn, has to say about choosing your medical specialty.

1. Explore Different Possibilities
Career exploration starts early in medicine, which is a good thing. Consider the following:

  • Interact with practicing physicians on a daily basis during rotations and pre-clerkship. 
  • Shadow hospital doctors as often as possible.
  • Make the most of the numerous clinical opportunities offered through your medical school (e.g., volunteering in clinics or shadowing in the emergency room), which will give you an early introduction to the nuances of the different specialties. 

2. Talk With Attendings From Different Specialties
The chance to work with physicians in a variety of settings during medical school affords you the unique opportunity to learn about various specialties. So...

  • Pick their brains. Ask questions. Get involved.
  • Seek advice from mentors (e.g., medical school deans and attendings) to assist you in your pursuit of choosing a specialty that is right for you and your skill set.
  • Try to identify trusted mentors who would be willing to provide you with unbiased viewpoints.
  • Schedule meetings with program directors in your specialty area and interview residents and fellows to gain insight into a specific area of interest.
  • Be proactive and willing to ask a lot of questions. 

3. Improve Your Skill Set
It is time to be honest with yourself.

  • What are your strengths/weaknesses?
  • What do you excel at and in what areas could you improve?
  • Pay attention to when you feel really excited about the procedure you are participating in and be aware of when you start to lose interest.
  • Figure out if you like to be surrounded by people all day long or if you prefer to work more independently.
  • Get a feel for if you like a specialty that is more research- or clinic-focused. 
  • Understand that your skill set will increase within your residency, but start preparing early. 

4. Consider The Lifestyle You Desire
A great way to determine what your life as a physician will look like is to:

  • Contact a doctor working within the specialty area you are interested in pursuing.
  • Talk to physicians in your medical school.
  • Contact physicians in non-academic settings to see how their day-to-day differs from that of those in academia.
  • Talk to doctors of every level (e.g., residents, new attendings, physicians towards the end of their career) and ask them if they could do it over again, would they do it differently.

5. Increase Your Competitiveness
Matching into a specialty area is becoming more and more competitive. So, you must ask yourself the following question: What can I do to separate myself from other applicants? Here are some options you might consider: 

  • Have an honest conversation with someone about your chances of matching into your desired specialty. 
  • Have a backup plan if you don’t match. 
  • Take the time to boost your application by gauging which components could make the biggest difference in getting into your desired specialty. Things to consider include: 
    • Personal development (e.g. extra-curricular activities, well-being, health)
    • Research-related tasks involving publications within your preferred specialty area
    • Clerkship grades
    • Step I and II scores
    • Away rotations
    • Letters of recommendation from respected professional sources
    • Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society (AOA) status


Thanks to Laura Henry, a third-year medical student at UPenn, for collaborating on this blog. Her experience and expertise in choosing a medical specialty was validated by her incredible tips. Be sure to check out our recent interview with Laura for #anatomyofamedstudent on our Instagram handle, AMBOSS_Med