Menu Icon Search
Close Search

3 Ways to Explore Medical Specialties

Created September 13, 2017 by Cassie Kosarek

Medicine is a vast field comprised of specialties so different that it’s hard to believe they stem from the same core training. Once you’ve made the important decision to pursue a career as a physician, you must then begin the process of sifting through various medical specialties to identify your own interests. But with limited or no training, you might ask what steps you can take to begin narrowing down your options. Whether you are in high school, college, or have already begun medical school, consider these options as you begin exploring the various medical specialties:

1. Spend several hours over several weeks shadowing in a clinic

Shadowing is perhaps the most obvious way to gain clinical exposure to a particular area. Shadowing typically involves following a physician during his or her clinic hours with the aim of understanding what kinds of cases he or she sees, how cases are handled, and other details about that particular job. During your medical school years, shadowing can generally be easily arranged with physicians who work within the hospital network that your program is affiliated with. During your undergraduate and high school years, shadowing may be most easily arranged through any social contacts you might have. In addition, some undergraduate institutions (especially those that are associated with a medical school) have contacts through their pre-medical advising offices.

2. Volunteer in a hospital department or clinical setting, preferably over several months (or longer) 

For high school and college students, volunteering is a fantastic way to gain early, broad exposure to medical specialties. Some hospitals allow students to select a department in which to volunteer, while others place volunteers in different departments as the need arises. (For younger students, there are often more restrictions as to what kinds of clinical experiences you can have.) No matter what department you end up in—or whether you volunteer in an inpatient hospital setting or an outpatient clinical setting—seek out a volunteer position that allows you long-term contact with one or more medical specialties in order to gain a more complete picture of how each specialty functions.

3. Contact practicing physicians in your specialties of interest, and arrange a meeting 

Depending on your schedule, it may not be feasible for you to adequately explore all of your medical specialties of interest through shadowing or volunteering. If you find that your clinical experiences don’t cover all of your interests or allow you time to gain a complete picture of each potential career, consider seeking out physicians who are practicing in your areas of interest. Then, ask to meet. In each conversation you have, seek to understand what that physician’s duties are, what he or she thinks are the best parts of the job, and what parts he or she wishes he or she could change. Ask yourself if you could see yourself living the lifestyle described by your contact. If you find his or her specialty particularly interesting, be sure to ask if you can contact him or her in the future regarding shadowing or volunteering opportunities.

About the Author
Cassie Kosarek is a professional tutor with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Bryn Mawr College and is a member of the Class of 2020 at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.

// Share //

// Recent Articles //

  • Checking the Boxes: Should You Give Up Your Job To Do Research?

  • Posted January 19, 2018 by The Short Coat Podcast
  • Sometimes the requirements aren’t required. Annie wrote in to [email protected] to ask Kaci McCleary, Erik Kneller, Gabriel Conley, and Marissa Evers if she should give up her 10-year job as a radiology tech so she’d have time to do research before applying to medical school. As is often the case with these kinds of questions, the answer...VIEW >
  • Is this patient high-risk?

  • Posted January 19, 2018 by Figure 1
  • A 55-year-old female presents with a low-grade fever, a new heart murmur, and Janeway lesions one week following a dental cleaning, and a preliminary diagnosis of infective endocarditis is made. Prophylactic antibiotics are administered prior to dental cleanings to prevent endocarditis in patients considered to be high-risk. Which of the following valvular conditions requires prophylactic...VIEW >
  • 7 Tips For Finding A Job After Residency

  • Posted January 18, 2018 by Ryan Bucci
  • Each year, thousands of residents in their final year of residency have the daunting task of surfing through thousands of job openings, determining which state they would like to practice in, and negotiating potential contracts. All of this can seem overwhelming for those who don’t have a large social network to lean on for additional...VIEW >
  • How to Keep Your White Coat Looking Sharp

  • Posted January 17, 2018 by Katie Imbrock
  • Whoever decided that doctors should wear white coats must not have spent much time with sick patients. Throughout your career, you will need to employ a number of techniques for removing unsightly and unsanitary stains from your coat. From blood and coffee to C-diff, here are some tips. Basic care The first step in keeping...VIEW >
  • Medical, +1 MORE
  • Creating Your Rank List for Match Day

  • Posted January 16, 2018 by Q Lee, DO
  • This time of year medical students are beginning to think of where they may match for residency. At this point in the application cycle, most candidates have completed a number of interviews and have an idea of what characteristics make up their ideal program. However, many candidates consider only a handful of major criteria when...VIEW >
  • Positive Thinking for the Year Ahead

  • Posted January 15, 2018 by Adelle
  • Looking Back at 2017 As another new year rolls around, I try to take some time to reflect on what went well in the past year and to look at the year ahead. This past year had its fair share of stressful moments, but what really kept me going were the small victories along the...VIEW >

// Forums //