Kenneth V. Iserson, M.D., MBA
Professor Emeritus, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

Once you think you know which specialty you might like, why don’t you give it a try? Would you buy a car without taking it for a test drive? Of course not! Then why consider investing time, effort, and money to train in a specialty when you really don’t know if you have found the correct one?

Volunteer. One of the best ways to learn about a specialty is to spend some of your free time on that clinical service. “What free time?” you ask. The answer is that you have time to do anything that is important to you. This is important. Certainly you can arrange to have a half-hour or 45 minutes to participate in a portion of morning rounds before class. How about Saturday or Sunday mornings? Ask your mentor to help you contact a physician in that specialty with whom you can work.

Talk to Many Specialists in the Field. Students often base specialty choices on their interactions with one physician in a given field, such as a parent, their own doctor, or a faculty member. Basing your entire career on only one individual’s experiences can be disastrous. Instead, go to local specialty meetings, to physicians’ offices and on rounds to learn more about the field that you plan to enter.

Read about the specialty.Go to the specialty’s national website(s). Read review articles describing the specialty’s current and future directions. Periodically review the main specialty journals and newsletters. Online issues are usually available through your library or your advisor.

The time you spend investigating any specialty you are seriously considering will pay enormous dividends in your future happiness and success.


Based on: Iserson’s Getting Into a Residency: A Guide for Medical Students, 8th edition
Tucson, AZ: Galen Press, Ltd.


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