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Do I need to know what specialty I want to practice before applying to medical school?

Written By: Armin Tadayyon, MD/MBA Candidate 2021 and a member of the Blueprint MCAT Pre-Med Advisory Council

Ah, the good old question, “Do I need to know what specialty I want to practice before applying to medical school?” The short answer is no! Many of you likely went through different career options throughout your freshman and sophomore years of college before settling on medicine and declaring yourself premed—this was my journey too! Some of my friends, however, had a good understanding of medicine after high school and knew that becoming a physician was the only thing they wanted. I would consider this an exception rather than the rule. Regardless, take some comfort in the fact that, in the end, you will all have to prep for the MCAT and apply to medical school through the same process!

Similarly, as you progress through medical school you will find many different paths that interest you. Keeping an open mind is beneficial to your growth. In your third year of medical school, you will be exposed to all areas of medicine in your required rotations. As you progress through your fourth year in medical school, you will eventually have to choose between medicinal or surgical pathways. 

In the medicine pathway, you will have rotations centered around medicine, such as internal medicine, emergency medicine, ICU, gastroenterology, and cardiology. In the surgical pathway, you will have rotation centered around procedures, such as surgery, orthopedics, anesthesiology, and emergency medicine. Don’t restrict yourself to one specialty; allow yourself to get exposed to new experiences that you probably wouldn’t consider.

However, if you are considering pursuing a competitive field—such as orthopedic surgery, dermatology, plastic surgery, or neurosurgery—you will be ahead of your peers if you know early that this is a field you plan to pursue. Individuals who match into these competitive areas have had extensive research that started in their first year of medical school. Likewise, they probably scored well on their board examinations and ranked high within their classes. Knowing you want to pursue a very competitive field will position you to take on opportunities that will strengthen your resume.

In conclusion, you do not need to know what specialty you want to practice before applying to medical school. Your time in medical school will be a time of discovery, curiosity, and introspection. Keeping an open mind will help you narrow down the characteristics that you look for in a specialty. On the other hand, if you think you know what you’d like to specialize in, honing your interests early will make you into a competitive applicant when Matching Season comes around.

“Stay hungry, stay foolish” my friends.

Applying to medical school soon? Have you taken the MCAT? If not, now is the time to start prepping! Create a free Blueprint MCAT account to get access to a free half-length diagnostic and MCAT practice test! Or schedule a free consultation with an MCAT Advisor to talk about your goals and to learn about our MCAT prep  + Med School Admissions Consulting specials!

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