What Kind of Doctor Should I Be?
Dr. Samara Khalique didn’t take a linear path to her current profession. Back when she was a psychology major at Bates College in Maine, an advisor encouraged her to apply to medical school after she handed in her thesis.
Once at American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC), the Class of 2011 alumna also didn’t hone in on her specialty immediately, eventually finding her passion in residency. She credits the late Dr. Lance Nash, former Professor of Anatomy and Chair of the Anatomy Department at AUC, for encouraging her to deeply explore anatomy and physiology, which piqued her interest in rheumatology. She also knew she had a desire to help patients with chronic conditions. The combination of Dr. Nash’s guidance and personal interest guided her toward choosing a rewarding career in rheumatology.
“It’s amazing being able to truly help people and relieve their pain,” Dr. Khalique said. “I’ve helped patients regain the ability to write, to play with their grandchildren, to wake up in the morning and not have pain—just basic things. But it makes a huge difference.”
For most medical students, deciding what kind of doctor you will be is not always a linear journey. Through a combination of personal reflection, professional experience, and education, your ideal specialty will become clear over time.
WHAT TYPE OF DOCTOR SHOULD I BE?
Before you apply to medical school, or even when you are just beginning your education, you are probably starting to consider what you want to specialize in. Taking note of areas of interest will make it easier to narrow down your options.
Since your specialization will likely be your career for life, you don’t want to make this decision lightly. Here are a few things to consider when pondering, “What medical specialty should I choose?”:
Personal interests. Are you passionate about helping a specific group of people or love learning about a certain medical condition? These might be signs that you may want to explore a related area of medicine as a specialty.
- Your personality. Do you thrive in high-stress situations or do you prefer a calmer work environment? Taking your personality into account and how you like to work can help you decide what type of doctor to become.
- Work-life balance. Some specialties require long hours or night shifts. If you prefer to work a more traditional shift or don’t want to always work long hours, then you want to take this into account.
- Location of school and training programs. Depending on the specialty you choose, a medical school near you may not have that specific residency program available. Are you willing to relocate to receive training? Do you want to live, at least temporarily, where the school or program is located?
- Program length. Some specialties take more training than others, therefore you should consider the length of the program when making your decision.
- Salary. What are your salary expectations? Generally, the more training and specialization you have, the more money you can make.
These are just a few of the things you should consider when deciding what kind of doctor to become. The next step is researching different medical specialties so you can have an understanding of exactly what the career/specialization involves.
TYPES OF MEDICAL DOCTORS
Here are the three main categories of medical doctors to help you start to develop an understanding of what kind of doctor you might want to become:
A general practitioner can treat patients of all ages. Their focus is usually on general medical care and preventative medicine. Some general practitioners may choose to specialize in one area of care or one type of patient.
Pros of being a general practitioner:
You can work with a variety of patients.
- It allows you to develop a long-term relationship with patients.
- You can play an integral role in the long-term health of your patients.
- The role will provide you with a diversity of knowledge and skills.
Cons of being a general practitioner:
- Depending on your position, you may work long or abnormal hours.
- Some general practitioners get a lower salary compared with other specialists.
Surgeons perform various procedures and frequently specialize in one particular body part or condition, such as the heart or orthopedics.
Pros of being a surgeon:
- High job satisfaction and respect in the medical community.
- Immediate gratification in being able to help people.
- Extensive training and skills required.
- Employment opportunities are expected to increase.
Cons of being a surgeon:
- Long educational path with many years of residency, fellowship, and training required.
- Work hours and workload may be challenging.
- Dealing with life and death decisions can cause stress and lead to burnout.
- More exposure to malpractice suits (surgeons are the doctors most likely to be sued).
Medical specialists deal with specific disease conditions or population groups. This may include pediatrics, psychiatry, gynecology, or endocrinology. There are more than 135 specialties and subspecialties in the United States. Since there are so many medical specialties, evaluating each one would be challenging, but here are some basics to explore:
Pros of being a specialist:
- Allows you to dive deeply into a subject you are passionate about.
- Focus on only one area of interest.
- Depending on the specialty and position you take, you may be able to work more standard hours with better work-life balance.
- Becoming a true specialist in a field allows you to branch out into other areas like publishing original research, speaking engagements, or teaching.
Cons of being a specialist:
Requires more extensive training.
- Depending on the specialty, it may require long hours and be a stressful work environment.
- Focusing only on one subject may become repetitive or tedious for some who like to have more day-to-day variety.
This is a very brief breakdown of the different career paths in medicine and should give you a place to get started when you are pondering “What kind of doctor should I be?”
TIPS FOR CHOOSING A MEDICAL SPECIALTY
Considering “what type of doctor should I be?” can help you begin to focus your education and experiences as you journey through college and medical school. The best way to make a decision about your medical specialty is through practical experience.
Research each medical specialty so you understand exactly what they do. Do they work in a hospital or clinic? What is the job outlook? What are the hours or other work requirements? What is the salary? These are all aspects of the specialty you need to look into to help you narrow down your options.
In your research, you also want to have an understanding of the amount of education and costs involved in specializing. The amount of time something takes should not deter you from pursuing a specialty you love, but you need to have an understanding of your commitment before you take the leap.
Next, you want to either shadow a physician in that specialty or get practical experience. Our program at American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC) has an alumni network of over 7,500 physicians. Many of our alumni are available to answer questions and help students understand the practical aspects of their medical specialties.
If you are unable to connect directly with a physician, consider getting practical work experience in the field you are interested in. Apply for a job or volunteer at a local hospital. Work as a receptionist at a doctor’s office. Any experience you can have before medical school is a great way to familiarize yourself with the healthcare industry and begin to understand the day-to-day life of medical professionals.
Here at AUC, we want to help you get the information you need to make the best decision about medical school and what type of doctor you should be. If you are just starting to research your ideal medical specialty, take a look at our free educational webinars and events that can help you evaluate which career path is best for you.