The Complete Guide to Selecting a Medical Career: Everything to Know

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), overall employment in the healthcare sector is expected to grow 13% from 2021 to 2031. In all, around two million new jobs will be generated over the course of the decade. 

Are you considering working in this field? There are many rewarding, profitable, and enjoyable roles in the industry, but choosing the right one can be a challenge. 

Selecting a medical career isn’t a decision to take lightly. Today, we’re sharing a complete guide to help you narrow down your options and choose the right path for you. 

Understanding Different Medical Specialties

Before you begin browsing different career paths, it helps to understand all of the different types of medical specialties. Put simply, these are branches of medicine that focus on a specific type of: 

  • Disease
  • Patient
  • Part of the body

Not all students choose a specialty before they enter medical school. In fact, most students don’t choose a specialty until they enter their residency program, which occurs after graduation. During your residency, you’ll have the opportunity to explore different kinds of specialties and decide which one you prefer. 

Residencies are designed to give medical students hands-on exposure to a range of different roles and occupations within a healthcare setting. During this time, you’ll work in a hospital, rotating periodically through several specialties so you can hone your skills and experience in each area.  

Let’s take a look at some of the most common jobs in this field that require specialization. 


As a surgeon, your main duty will be to diagnose and treat illnesses or injuries by performing surgical procedures on your patients. While operations will be your primary responsibility, you can also expect to be tasked with the following jobs: 

  • Reviewing patient medical information
  • Ordering and analyzing diagnostic tests
  • Counseling patients on operative care (pre-op and post-op)
  • Monitoring patients during each procedure to ensure safety and wellness 


A neurologist is a type of physician who focuses mostly on disorders associated with the brain, nerves, and spinal cord. In this role, you will not be tasked with performing surgery, but you will help patients identify and treat the source of their discomfort. 

The majority of your time will be spent on the following duties:

  • Diagnosing medical conditions
  • Creating and administering treatment plans
  • Prescribing medications
  • Managing ongoing conditions 

Nurse Practitioner

A nurse practitioner is a more advanced type of registered nurse (RN). In this role, some of your primary duties will include:

  • Diagnosing illnesses and conditions
  • Examining and assessing patients
  • Providing medical treatment
  • Prescribing medications
  • Educating patients on their general wellness and overall health 

Primary Care Physician

When most people talk about going to the doctor, they’re visiting their primary care physician, or PCP. In this role, you will help diagnose and treat a variety of different illnesses, along with providing routine exams and preventative care. Some of the tasks you will complete include:

  • Providing care at the first point of contact
  • Managing patient health concerns over time 
  • Diagnosing and treating diseases, illnesses, injuries, and other conditions 
  • Prescribing medications
  • Making referrals to other healthcare specialties

Physician’s Assistant

As the name implies, physician assistants help general physicians. They work with all kinds of doctors, across many different specialties. Some of the duties you can expect to perform in this role include:

  • Obtaining and reviewing patient medical information
  • Diagnosing medical conditions
  • Performing routine physical exams
  • Creating and sharing treatment plans
  • Counseling patients on health-related preventative measures
  • Ordering, reviewing, and sharing results of lab tests
  • Assisting with surgical procedures and operations 


A pediatrician is a licensed physician who specializes in treating younger patients, most of whom are under the age of 18. In this role, you’ll provide care to patients from birth through their adolescent years. This will include the following processes and procedures:

  • Identifying and diagnosing diseases and illnesses 
  • Managing ongoing conditions
  • Prescribing medications
  • Reviewing patient medical histories
  • Performing routine and targeted exams
  • Offering or referring mental health services

There’s no right or wrong specialty to study. Instead, it’s important to think about the kind of services you’d like to provide, and the type of healthcare setting you can see yourself working in. 

Medical Specialists

When a patient has a specific type of illness related to a certain part of their body, they may visit a medical specialist. This is someone who’s developed an expertise related to a certain kind of disease or body part (such as the heart, brain, ear/nose/throat, etc.). 

Some of the most common types of medical specialists include:

  • Oncologists
  • Cardiologists 
  • Neurologists
  • Ophthalmologists 

Going to Medical School

No matter which field you choose to specialize in, choosing medical schools should be the first step you take after you complete your undergraduate degree. 

Becoming a doctor will require a serious commitment of your time, money, and energy. It’s not a decision to take lightly or rush into. For most students, this process takes between 11 and 16 years to complete, which breaks down roughly into the following timelines:

  • Four years of undergraduate school
  • Four years of medical school
  • Three to eight years of medical specialty training (residency)

Different specialties will require a longer amount of time to pursue, so this timeline is subject to change. This is because there are varying levels of education for medical careers. For instance, a surgeon or PCP may need to attend residency for longer than a physician’s assistant. 

When deciding whether or not to pursue this field, keep the cost of medical school in mind. While it can be expensive, your earning potential is also high, and most medical students are able to absolve their debt after working in the field for a certain number of years. 

In addition to your initial, base education, keep in mind that you will also be required to complete continuing education courses throughout your career. These are designed to help you stay up-to-date on all of the changes and advancements that are occurring in the medical field. 

Fine-Tuning Your Options

Now that you know a little more about what you can expect to do in each specialty, you might be wondering how to choose one that will fit your unique skills and talents. One of the best ways to decide is to partner with an organization that offers internships for medical students

Through these programs, you can network, gain experience, learn practical skills, and also get exposure in the field of your choice. In the meantime, here are a few other aspects to consider as you’re deciding between different options. 

Think of Your Setting

Start by brainstorming how you want to treat patients. When you envision yourself working as a healthcare provider, what are you doing?

Are you in an emergency room or a hospital? What about a pediatrician’s office or a mental health facility? The type of environment that you work in can affect everything from your stress level to the amount of satisfaction you get from your job.

If you’re someone who thrives in a high-stakes, fast-paced setting, then you may prefer the rush of an emergency room team. Otherwise, a more calm and relaxed location, such as a pediatrician’s office, may be more your speed. 

Consider the Patients

Next, consider the type of patients you’d like to work with. From the very young to the very old, everyone needs the help and support of a medical professional at some point in their lives. 

If you love working with newborns, then you may choose a path in prenatal care, or decide on a career as an OB-GYN. If you want to work with children and teens, then you might thrive as a pediatrician! If you prefer to treat older adults, then you can look into jobs at hospitals, hospice care, and similar settings. 

Understand Your Strengths

Finally, take an honest assessment of your medical professional skills. Are you someone who can think on their toes? Can you listen well, communicate easily, and succeed in a team-based environment? 

Each type of healthcare career will require its own set of capabilities. While you can learn many of these at medical school, some are more inherent in you. 

A Word on Salaries

The high-risk nature of the medical profession typically means that people who work in this sector enjoy comfortable salaries. However, it’s important to consider the entire nature of the job, and not get blinded by the pay scale. Different specialties will make different incomes, which can vary based on factors such as:

  • Level of experience
  • Level of education
  • Seniority at the practice
  • Types of services performed 

When comparing medical career salaries, remember that there’s so much more to this field than the earning potential. Sometimes, the highest-paying specialties also require the longest hours and highest levels of stress. It’s not uncommon for many doctors to work upward of 60 hours per week or even more. 

Depending on your position, you may be required to be on-call during the night or respond to emergency requests even on your days off. In addition to your specialty, your salary may also fluctuate based on your geographic location. 

Selecting a Medical Career That’s Right For You

Deciding to work in the healthcare field is a great step! This industry is always advancing and has a great amount of potential. You can choose from many different specialties depending on your strengths and interests. 

When selecting a medical career, think about your long-term goals and desires. This includes taking into account your future salary, work/life balance, work environment, and more.