9 residents on what inspired them to choose their residency specialty

By Kristen Fuller, MD
Published August 21, 2023

Key Takeaways

Choosing a residency specialty was one of my life’s most challenging decisions. I initially applied to match into OB/GYN because I loved obstetrics and women’s health. However, I went unmatched and decided to apply for a family medicine residency, as it still allowed me to work closely with female patients. 

There are many factors to consider when choosing a specialty, such as which parts of your training you enjoy the most, how your mentors have influenced you, and whether you want to be involved in laboratory medicine, patient education, or academic medicine. 

We asked medical residents, “What inspired you to choose your residency specialty, and is it what you expected?” Here’s what they had to say.

resident thinking pensive thoughtful worried overwhelmed doctor

The importance of mental health

Esha Hansoti, MD: "I chose psychiatry as my residency specialty because I have always been fascinated by the intricate interplay between the mind and the experiences that shape it. 

"The human psyche is a complex landscape, and I believe that understanding and addressing mental health challenges is crucial for the overall well-being of individuals and communities. However, what truly drew me to specialize in trauma and community psychiatry was the realization that mental health issues are not isolated within the individual, but are deeply influenced by their social, cultural, and environmental contexts."

"Trauma, in particular, has a profound impact on individuals and communities, and I wanted to be at the forefront of helping people heal and rebuild their lives after experiencing such hardships."

Esha Hansoti, MD

pediatric resident child children young patient

The rewards of pediatric care

Gurinder Kumar MD: "My uncle inspired me to do pediatrics, and I worked under him after medical school. I found pediatrics interesting and challenging, as it requires skill to diagnose the children."

"It is rewarding to see children getting better and smiling. I expected it to be busy and fun and it turned out to be true."

Gurinder Kumar, MD

A Black, male researcher examines a specimen under a microscope in a laboratory

Combining two passions

Carla Saoud, MD: "Choosing pathology for residency offered me a unique and fascinating opportunity to delve into the intricate world of disease diagnosis and understanding the mechanisms behind various medical conditions. Pathology residency attracted me because I had a keen interest in the interplay between clinical medicine and laboratory analysis. 

"It is what I expected, and it even surpassed my expectations. This field provides a chance to explore the diverse subspecialties within pathology, such as surgical pathology, hematopathology, cytopathology, and molecular pathology. In addition, pathologists contribute significantly to patient care by providing accurate diagnoses, aiding in treatment decisions, and advancing medical research."

"The intellectually stimulating nature of pathology, coupled with the ability to make a tangible impact on patient outcomes, makes it an exciting and rewarding choice for those passionate about unraveling the mysteries of disease. "

Carla Saoud, MD

young doctor older patient elderly resident

Comprehensive patient care

Jake Jacob, MD: "Choosing internal medicine as my specialty was a well-considered decision driven by a passion for comprehensive patient care and the complexities of adult medicine. 

"The realities of practicing internal medicine align with my expectations in terms of intellectual stimulation, diagnostic challenges, and long-term patient relationships. However, the transition to independent practice brought new challenges, such as shouldering critical decision-making and managing a large patient panel while balancing administrative duties.

"Despite the challenges, the rewards of internal medicine remain fulfilling. Witnessing the positive impact on patients' lives, helping them manage chronic diseases, and building strong relationships continues to be gratifying. The trust patients place in me and the gratitude expressed reaffirm my dedication to this field."

"Internal medicine remains a rewarding path that allows me to make a tangible difference in patients' well-being and contribute to the advancement of healthcare."

Jake Jacob, MD

Dermatologist checking patient with magnifying glass

A specialty's psychosocial impacts 

Vignesh Ramachandran, MD: "My inspiration for choosing dermatology as my residency specialty stemmed from a deep-seated interest in the psychosocial impact of skin diseases. I became acutely aware that skin conditions, beyond their physical manifestations, carry significant emotional and social implications that deeply affect individuals' quality of life.

"The reality of my dermatology residency has been more challenging than I initially anticipated. The transition to mastering outpatient medicine and adjusting to the brisk pace of dermatology was a steep learning curve. Despite these challenges, I remain committed to my specialty. The complexities of outpatient dermatology, while initially overwhelming, have offered a wealth of learning experiences and opportunities to refine my clinical skills."

"Even though the journey has been tough, it continues to reinforce my passion for dermatology and my dedication to improving the lives of patients struggling with skin diseases."

Vignesh Ramachandran, MD

Diverse medical residents

Other reflections

  • Nikhila G, MD: "Primary care gives immense satisfaction as you are advocating for your patients health. And the ability to treat patients of all ages and all ailments is never boring and always interesting!"

  • Tina Yang, DO: "I chose EM because it’s an exciting field and there’s never a dull moment. There’s so much variety everyday and you get to meet so many new people. We are a family and everyone works together. It’s everything I hoped to find in residency and more."

  • Vasudha Kota, MD: "I am inspired by seeing kids better after treatment and their fighting spirit."

  • Olivia Sutton, MD: "I chose anesthesia initially because of my mentors. There was a time I thought I wanted to go into surgery, but when I did my rotation, I realized that what I thought I wanted out of my future (procedures, critical care, being the expert on critical situations in a room), the anesthesiologists were the ones doing that stuff, not the surgeons!"

Parting thoughts

Choosing a residency specialty is a big decision for your career as a physician, with many factors coming into play. Do you want to spend most of your time in the operating room, or would you rather spend more time in front of the patient? Do you want to treat adults or children? What type of lifestyle do you want to have? How competitive is your desired specialty, and do you have a competitive enough application to match?

All these questions are important to ask yourself before determining which specialty is right for you. After all, it is an extremely personal decision that only you can decide.

Every medical resident has a question to ask and a story to tell—a comical moment, a prickly patient encounter, or a hack for staying sane during residency. We survey medical trainees for their best questions and answers and bring them to you in this column. Engaging, enlightening, and entertaining—from resident to resident!

Read Next: These 5 residents faced bias during residency. Here's how they handled it
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