What’s the Best Way to Pick a Specialty: Orthopaedics or Otherwise!

Amiethab Aiyer, MD, FAAOS | Matt Varacallo, MD

November 24, 2021


Whether you are in college thinking ahead, or post-call from your 3rd year general surgery rotation, making the decision to choose orthopaedics or any other field is challenging. Although some students have known their specialty of interest for a long time, experiences during medical school may cause this to change!  In today’s post, we share some thoughts that can help guide your decision making on which specialty to select.

1Keep an Open Mind

No matter what preconceived ideas you may have had thus far, give yourself the opportunity to explore all specialties, even if orthopaedics is at the top of your list. You may be surprised at which fields pique your interests; diversity of pathology, procedural capabilities, or the patient population – shadowing clinicians can help you gauge which specialty sparks that visceral feeling of passion. Virtual shadowing opportunities are now probably more important considering the pandemic

2Take Advantage of Social Media

More and more specialty-based accounts are popping up on various social media platforms; this is a great way to connect with physicians in the fields of interest and get a sense of what attracted them to their specialty. This also provides a great pathway to gain perspective on how they find harmony between their personal and professional lives.

3Set Up Virtual Meetings with Attendings/Residents From Different Specialties

Given difficulties with in-person shadowing, reaching out and connecting with attendings in a virtual setting is a great way to explore the field. Take the time to get to know these potential mentors and dissect what facets of the field spark their interests, from both a clinical and research perspective. Plant those seeds of mentorship by connecting with these potential mentors regularly and get to know them beyond the white coat

4Take Time to Explore Research

Doing research in a specific specialty is critically important to connect with potential mentors, and helps you get a better understanding of the more academic nuances of a given field. This is even more important given the limitations with shadowing secondary to the pandemic.  Research demonstrates your ability to think analytically, work in teams and complete projects; even if the research is outside of your ultimate field of choice, this can still be beneficial (especially for residency applications as Step 1 goes to pass/fail).

5Hands On vs Hands Off

Some people will gravitate towards working with their hands and others may not. It’s certainly worth taking the time to shadow some clinicians in surgical or office based procedural fields to identify if this is something you enjoy. Talk to residents as well to gauge their perspective, given that they are closer to specialty selection.  If this is not for you, then no worries at all! You can make a difference in patient’s lives no matter what field you enter.

6Lifestyle

While everyone in medicine works extremely hard to care for the plethora of issues that exist, some specialties may be more lifestyle friendly than others. This is important to identify for a variety of reasons, and it is important to be honest with yourself in this regard when deciding on a given field.

7Find Your Passion

The best way to pick a specialty is to find one that makes you truly happy; this will enable you to stay engaged with your patients, with research and ultimately be happy! One final mantra to remember – identify the most ordinary and common problem in a specific specialty; if you enjoy taking care of that problem, you have likely found your specialty for life!


DISCLOSURES: Dr. Aiyer American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society: Board or committee member, Delee & Drez Orthopaedic Sports Medicine (Elsevier): Publishing royalties, financial or material support, Medline: Paid consultant, Medshape: Paid consultant, Miller’s Review of Orthopaedics (Elsevier): Publishing royalties, financial or material support Dr. Varacallo This individual reported nothing to disclose.

Read the AAOS Code of Conduct for Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE.

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