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Clinical students

Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to go to medical school. But now you might be asking yourself these big questions: “What kind of doctor should I be? What medical specialty should I choose?”  With 135 medical specialties and subspecialties out there, choosing the right one can be daunting. This guide will walk you through some common medical specialties to help you decide which medical profession might suit you best. 

Internist

If you’re a big-picture person who wants to be in a medical field where relationships with patients is a key part of your job, internal medicine might be the right path for you. 

An internist, or internal medicine physician (also called a general internist), is a doctor of internal medicine for adults. An internist specializes in the internal organs and must know how all of the body systems work together. In addition, internists focus on preventive care and treat minor ailments, such as ear infections, as well as chronic illnesses, such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

When the question “what kind of doctor should I be?” comes to mind one often thinks about their ideal workplace setting. Internists often work in hospitals, but they also work at rehabilitation, hospice, or research facilities. 

Becoming an internist requires a three-year internal medicine residency. According to the American College of Physicians (ACP), subspecialities, such as cardiology, oncology, and hematology, require additional training. 

Family Medicine Doctor

When thinking to yourself “what type of doctor should I be?”, you may also ponder about what kind of work you enjoy. If you like the whole-system approach of general internal medicine but want to work with patients of all ages, family medicine could be the right choice for you. Family medicine doctors typically work in outpatient settings and provide the majority of care for underserved rural and urban U.S. populations according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). As such, understanding community-level factors and social determinants of health is an important part of being a family medicine doctor. 

Because family medicine doctors treat all ages and work with all body systems, they receive training in pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, psychiatry and neurology, surgery, and community medicine. They may also perform minor in-office procedures, such as colposcopies, endoscopies, and skin procedures.

While internists often work in hospitals, family physicians are typically in an outpatient setting. And as with general internal medicine, becoming a family medical doctor requires a three-year residency, with additional training for subspecialties.

Pediatrician

Do you like the sound of general internal medicine but want to work with kids? If so, pediatrics is likely your calling. A pediatrician is a doctor who cares for patients from birth to young adulthood. In addition to the responsibilities of an internist, pediatricians must monitor their patients’ growth and development and keep them up to date with recommended childhood immunizations. 

As with general internal medicine and family medicine, pediatricians must complete a three-year residency before they can start practicing. They can also choose to train in one of the many pediatric specialties, such as adolescent medicine, emergency medicine, and pediatric surgery. 

OB/GYN

Those who want to focus on women’s health will land firmly in the field of obstetrics gynecology. An OB/GYN, or obstetrician gynecologist, is a medical doctor who works with female patients from the ages of puberty through the middle and later stages of life. An OB/GYN combines two disciplines: obstetrics, which involves the treatment of pregnant women, including the delivery of babies; and gynecology, the care of a woman’s reproductive organs and health. 

An OB-GYN may be the only doctor that many young women see on a regular basis. For this reason, many obstetrician gynecologists offer a broad range of medical services, even serving as primary care providers.

An OB/GYN must complete a four-year residency with additional training for subspecialties. 

Surgeon

Do you have excellent hand-eye coordination, a meticulous attention to detail, and work well on a team? Can you keep cool under pressure? If so, consider becoming a surgeon. In addition to performing surgery, a surgeon leads the doctors, nurses, and technicians during surgery while monitoring the patient’s health to ensure their safety. Surgeons also direct the patient’s pre- and post-operative care. 

Don’t be scared away from becoming a surgeon if you don’t fit the personality profile of surgeons you’ve seen on TV. According to one 2017 study, many of today’s surgeons are, in fact, introverts, and the modern surgical residency recognizes the vital need for teamwork in the operating room. (It takes a village!)  

Surgeons work in a range of settings, including hospitals, private practices, and government service programs, among other facilities. There are 14 surgical subspecialities, each with different requirements for fellowship training, but count on at least five years of training after completing your degree. 

Anesthesiologist

Are you extremely detail oriented but also enjoy thinking on your feet? Are you able to stay focused in high-pressure situations? If so, the field anesthesiology might be your match.  

An anesthesiologist specializes in anesthesia care, pain management, and critical care medicine. Anesthesiologists play a critical role during surgery, administering medicine to alleviate pain and evaluating patients before, during, and after an operation to ensure their safety and comfort.

In addition to a three-year residency, anesthesiologists must complete one preliminary year in their area of focus, plus additional training for subspecialties. 

Cardiologist

If you enjoy becoming an expert in one area of focus, cardiology is one of many fields for you to consider. A cardiologist is a doctor of the cardiovascular system, which includes the heart and blood vessels. 

Cardiologists diagnose and monitor heart conditions and other cardiovascular issues, such as heart attacks, heart valve disease, arrhythmia, and high blood pressure. In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women, making the role of a cardiologist all the more critical to our healthcare system.

In addition to a three-year internal medicine residency, cardiologists must complete a three-year fellowship in cardiology. Subspecialities such as heart failure or electrophysiology require an additional 1-2-year fellowship

Pathologist

If you love lab work and solving mysteries, then your answer to what type of doctor should I be?, is most likely a pathologist. A pathologist is a medical doctor who examines blood, tissue, and bodily fluid samples to identify illness, assess its severity, and give advice to doctors and other medical staff on how best to treat the patient. Some pathologists are doctors with specialized laboratory training, while others are scientists with specialized clinical training. 

 There are two main areas of pathology: anatomic pathology and clinical pathology. An anatomic pathologist examines tissues to identify disease or to identify the cause of death. Clinical pathologists measure the chemical makeup of blood and other body fluids to identify disease. 

 Pathologists practice in community, university, and government hospitals and clinics; independent laboratories, and private offices. They must complete four years of residency training, and an additional 1-2 years of training is required for subspecialties.

Getting Started On Your Path To Becoming a Doctor

Now that you know more about the different types of medical doctors, you’re on your way to answering the question: what kind of doctor I should be? At Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM), you’ll have the chance to work with expert faculty at the forefront of their fields who will become essential partners in your development.

RUSM is committed to providing students with a range of global medical opportunities that will enable them to develop the kinds of life and professional skills that will make them stand out in residency, and beyond. Ready to learn more? Let’s get started!

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In 2020, 91% of RUSM students passed the initial step of the United States Medical Licensing Examination® (USMLE®) on the first attempt. And in 2021-2022, results show yet another strong year for RUSM with a 96% first-time residency attainment rate* thus far. Located on the island of Barbados and with a network of more than 15,000 alumni, RUSM is one of the largest providers of doctors for the U.S. healthcare system. RUSM graduates practice in all 50 states and in Puerto Rico.

*First time residency attainment rate is the percent of students attaining a 2022-23 residency position out of all graduates or expected graduates in 2021-22 who were active applicants in the 2022 NRMP match or who attained a residency position outside the NRMP match.