A lot goes into choosing a specialty while you’re in medical school. Ideally, you would spend your first two years asking everything you can about whatever specialties you’re interested in. You should utilize the resources you’re given to make it easier to choose the specialty – ask all of the questions you have, participate in as many rotations as possible, and attend as many events as you can. However, if you find that you’ve joined a residency program for a specialty you aren’t that interested in after all, it is possible to switch specialties. We’ve put together a guide for how to navigate making this change, in hopes that we can help ease the pain a bit. If you find yourself needing resources to prepare to apply for different programs, PracticeMatch has you covered with our Career Resources.

There are multiple reasons that you might want to change specialties – maybe there was an aspect you hadn’t thought about before starting residency, or everything you had read about it was entirely different than what you’ve been experiencing during your time in residency so far. Or maybe you’re just interested in something else and you want to study multiple things! Either way, there’s no shame in changing your mind, but you may have to put in a little extra work (and some more time) than you had initially planned for. However, it is important that you don’t spend more years of your life doing something that you don’t want to do just because you don’t want to go through the process all over again. Think about it like this: the number of years you will have to spend learning about a new specialty is significantly shorter than the number of years you would be spending practicing medicine in a field that you don’t even enjoy that much.

Here are some things for you to think about when you’re looking into switching specialties:

Depending on what year of residency you are in, there may not be any funding left for you.
If you choose to switch part of the way through your residency, or after your residency is over, there will be no funding left for whichever residency you decide to complete next. The number of years of funding you get in total depends on the specialty you originally wanted to complete a residency for2. This is just something to keep in mind when you do decide to make the switch. We’re not saying that you should stay somewhere that you aren’t enjoying your time, but it’s a good thing to consider.

You may not get accepted into your new specialty.
When changing specialties, you run the risk of not getting accepted into your new specialty. This is possibly the riskiest part of wanting to switch your specialty. You have better odds of being accepted if you show that you are truly passionate about the new specialty that you are applying for. It is also recommended that you take an elective rotation during residency, if possible, in order to make some connections. Also, even if you don’t get accepted the first time around, you can try again the following year. It’s not ideal, but it is better than staying in a specialty that you don’t enjoy.

What would you be giving up if you were to switch to that new specialty?
Make sure that when you’re looking at picking up a new specialty, you’re considering all of the characteristics of that new specialty. This includes the work schedule (hours, days of the week, on-call), the environment, your peers, who you would be working with, and more. Are you willing to get up at 4am to head in for your shift? Do you like working with kids? Would you prefer to be in the OR assisting with surgeries? If the answer to some of these questions is “no”, that’s okay – maybe you’re willing to make some sacrifices for your new career. But also, if you’re not willing to budge, that’s okay, too.

Make sure that you really love the specialty that you’re switching to.
At the end of the day, switching specialties isn’t for everyone, but it is okay if you decide to. In some cases, a resident might decide that they would rather continue the specialty that they started with, and that’s okay. Just be mindful that if you choose to go back to the specialty you started with, you may have to repeat some years of your residency (or maybe even repeat the entire thing).

We hope that this information helped you if you're thinking about changing your specialty. It's a huge decision and shouldn't be taken lightly, but it is okay to admit that you made a mistake.

As always, feel free to reach out to us at information@practicematch.com with anything you want to share! 

Crystal Carter

Crystal Carter, Marketing Specialist

You can stay connected with me on LinkedIn for all of the latest PracticeMatch articles and upcoming events.