How Physicians Can Successfully Switch Their Specialty

Written by: Alex Brown
Published on: May 15, 2023

How Physicians Can Switch Their Specialty-1

You're not alone if you’ve thought about changing your specialty as a doctor. In fact, about one-fifth of physicians change their specialty at least once.

Thankfully, the healthcare industry gives you plenty of options. Here are some of the best ways to change your specialty depending on where you are in your career.

Switching as a Resident
Nearly half of all residents change specialties at least once during their residencies. If you feel after a period of orientation that there may be a better choice than the one you originally selected, it’s not impossible to switch. If you’re considering making a change, here are some tips:

  • Share your feelings with your program director right away. Have a conversation with your director so they can have the opportunity to provide insights that may wind up changing your mind or at the very least it will give them the chance to prepare remaining residents for your departure. Additionally, you should ask for a letter of good standing to present when you switch.
  • Create a profile on Resident Swap. Look for opportunities to switch and share your spot with others. For a small fee, they will send out an alert when a suitable residency spot is available.
  • Create a portfolio with a CV. Put together your transcripts, letters of recommendation, board scores, and the letter from your program director that you are in good standing. Be sure to craft a personal statement that explains why you want to switch. Keep your statement positive to avoid a negative impression by a future program director.
  • If you are unsure of the right specialty, enroll in a research year. A research year outside of your normal medical school curriculum, where you work with a specific researcher, physician, or department to further their research may be beneficial. It certainly won’t hurt your application, and some positions are paid. You can find spots on Resident Swap.
  • It’s critical that you enroll somewhere before leaving your current residency. Avoid taking a year off to decide your next move. Leaving the residency you have now may put future matches at risk, so stay in your current role until you have been matched to your residency of choice.

Do whatever you can to exit your residency in good standing. Stay attentive while on duty and responsive to your program director. Switching your residency is doable, but can be frowned upon, so make sure to go above and beyond to ensure your reputation remains intact.

How Physicians Can Switch Their Specialty-2
Switching as a Physician
If you find yourself disappointed in your field after you’ve completed residency, you can still switch, but the level of difficulty in making that move depends on what specialty you’d like to change to.

If your desired specialty is similar to your current one, sometimes making the transition only requires a little extra training. For example, if you are a pediatrician but want to work in neonatology, you can get fellowship training for that specific specialty.

Switching to a completely different specialty will take some sacrifice since you will need to enter residency all over again. Obviously that means a pay cut for several years and you’ll be starting from scratch again. However, some physicians found that it allowed them to pursue a more meaningful and fulfilling career despite all the extra time and effort.

It’s Never Too Late to Start Again
Changing specialties is a fairly common practice, which means you don’t have to be stuck in a job you don’t like forever. Although in some cases it might mean more work for you in the short term, going the extra mile for the right specialty will allow you to have a more fulfilling career and make a bigger difference in a role you’re excited about.

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