Pros and Cons of Declaring a Medical School Specialty
Choosing a specialty is one of the most exciting yet difficult tasks for medical students. With more than 120 specialties and subspecialties, future physicians have a wide range of options to choose from and many factors to consider when making their final decision.
Some premedical students have a specialty in mind when applying to medical school, and although it may be good to have some idea for a future practice, making a strong declaration may be harmful to your application.
With just 26 percent of medical students pursuing their initial specialty choice, according to 2017 data from the Association of American Medical Colleges, it’s important to consider your motivation and reasons behind a specialty of interest as a premed student.
“Most medical school applicants are passionate about their career choice and that often tempts candidates to specify a specialty interest in a personal statement. But tread lightly,” wrote Dr. Edward Lipsit, a former admissions committee member at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and an adviser with MedSchoolCoach.
Here are the pros and cons of declaring a specialty when applying to medical school.
Pros of declaring a medical specialty.
When completing the medical school application or interviewing, conveying an interest in a particular field can be perceived as having in-depth medical exposure. Having an idea about your future plans and matching your personality to a particular experience can demonstrate maturity and breadth of experience in medicine.
“If an applicant feels compelled to discuss a preference, it’s best to describe it as an area of interest and provide a thread that includes significant experience resulting in such early enthusiasm,” Lipsit says. “Perhaps the most appropriate time and place for indicating a specialty choice is when the question is posed in a secondary application or at the time of interview.”
One of the common interview questions is “How do you see yourself in 10 years?” Having a specialty interest can demonstrate your ability to be introspective, mindful and curious about your future as a physician.
Cons of declaring a medical specialty.
On the other hand, declaring a specialty can potentially make applicants seem narrow minded.
“Acknowledging the value of broad exposure and keeping an open mind is usually the best tack,” Lipsit says. Such exposure could mean having experience in different fields of medicine, such as surgery, internal medicine and pediatrics, instead of limited experience in one or two specialties.
Keep in mind that admissions committee members may wonder what you will gain from all of your clinical rotations in the third and fourth year of medical school if you have your heart set on a particular specialty.
Also, being locked into a specific subspecialty, such as hand and foot orthopedics or infectious disease, may seem as though you are not open to exploring other options and may mean you have a limited understanding of the breadth of medicine.
The bottom line:
It’s important to weigh the pros and cons when making the decision to share your interest in a specialty. Consider how it can demonstrate your experience while still conveying your eagerness to learn more about other areas in medicine.
“Medical school is a unique educational and enlightening experience … make that eye opening,” Lipsit says. “The clinical rotations and electives can result in a 180-degree turnaround for many students.”
Having a specific interest can propel you forward, but using your time in medical school to fully explore and develop your passion will help you reach your full potential as a future physician.