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 //

  • Rejection Happens

  • Posted September 22, 2017 by The Short Coat Podcast
  • “When you’re following your inner voice, doors tend to eventually open for you, even if they mostly slam at first.”― Kelly Cutrone Related...VIEW >
  • Quiz of the Week: What Audible Finding is Consistent With This Presentation?

  • Posted September 22, 2017 by Figure 1
  • A 40-year-old male presents to the emergency department with sharp chest pain and palpitations. He says the pain is worse when he lies down and is exacerbated by coughing, but improves when he moves to a seated position. He was recently diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) after investigation for recurrent cyanotic discoloration and numbness...VIEW >
  • Medical, +1 MORE
  • Planning and Time Management for Boards Success

  • Posted September 22, 2017 by Boards Boot Camp
  • No matter how you plan on preparing for boards, getting started sooner than later is a good policy to apply. First, when should you start prepping for boards? The quick answer is DAY 1 of medical school – the better your foundation in med school, the more you will be able to build on top...VIEW >
  • 12 Tips to Prepare for the COMLEX

  • Posted September 21, 2017 by H. Jeff Nazar, DO
  • If you’re like most medical students, your “To-Do” list is probably never ending! Between hectic class schedules, rotation schedules, and studying for your shelf exams, you’re probably feeling lucky when you can get a full night’s sleep and a nice warm shower. I’m sure that the last thing you want to be thinking about is...VIEW >
  • Medical, +1 MORE
  • 5 Steps to Earning a 90th-Percentile MCAT Score

  • Posted September 21, 2017 by Lauren Curtis
  • Famous Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz once remarked, “When my teams took second place, the fans called me an idiot. A guy who finished last in medical school is still called a ‘doctor’. Hardly seems fair.” Lou’s pithy comment may be true for students already in medical school. However, if you are a premed...VIEW >
  • 5 Ways to Study for the MCAT Using Your Smart Phone

  • Posted September 20, 2017 by Andrew George
  • You can do almost anything with your smart phone these days. You can video call a friend in China, order pizza with the click of a button, and even see in the dark! So, if your smart phone can help you do these and an almost infinitely large number of other things, then why can’t...VIEW >
  • How to Land The Residency You Want

  • Posted September 19, 2017 by BoardVitals
  • Getting matched to a residency program is nearly a year long process, but where do you even begin? Here is a general timeline of what your Residency Match journey may look like from start to finish: Related...VIEW >

// Forums //