Choosing Your Medical Specialty

All physicians must have residency training in a particular medical specialty, and many practicing physicians go on to specialize in a particular area of medicine. The most frequently entered specialties, as derived from National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) data, are listed below. (See also the National Medical Specialty Societies.)

Emergency medicine
American College of Emergency Physicians
A physician who specializes in Emergency Medicine focuses on the immediate decision-making and action necessary to prevent death or any further disability both in the pre-hospital setting by directing emergency medical technicians and in the emergency department. This specialist provides immediate recognition, evaluation, care, stabilization, and disposition of a generally diversified population of adult and pediatric patients in response to acute illness and injury.
Specialty training required prior to certification: Three years

Family practice
American Academy of Family Physicians
Family Physicians deliver a range of acute, chronic, and preventive medical care services. In addition to diagnosing and treating illness, they also provide preventive care, including routine checkups, health-risk assessments, immunization and screening tests, and personalized counseling on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Family physicians also manage chronic illness, often coordinating care provided by other subspecialists.
Specialty training required prior to certification: Three years

Internal medicine
American College of Physicians
An Internist is a personal physician who provides long-term, comprehensive care in the office and in the hospital, managing both common and complex illnesses of adolescents, adults, and the elderly. Internists are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, infections, and diseases affecting the heart, blood, kidneys, joints, and the digestive, respiratory, and vascular systems. They are also trained in the essentials of primary care internal medicine, which incorporates an understanding of disease prevention, wellness, substance abuse, mental health, and effective treatment of common problems of the eyes, ears, skin, nervous system, and reproductive organs.
Specialty training required prior to certification: Three years

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
An Obstetrician/Gynecologist focuses on the health of women before, during, and after childbearing years, diagnosing and treating conditions of the reproductive system and associated disorders.
Specialty training required prior to certification: Four years plus two years in clinical practice before certification is complete.

Orthopedic surgeon
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
An Orthopedic Surgeon is educated in the preservation, investigation, and restoration of the form and function of the extremities, spine, and associated structures by medical, surgical, and physical means. This specialist is involved with the care of patients whose musculoskeletal problems include congenital deformities, trauma, infections, tumors, metabolic disturbances of the musculoskeletal system, deformities, injuries, and degenerative diseases of the spine, hands, feet, knee, hip, shoulder, and elbow in children and adults. An Orthopedic Surgeon is also concerned with primary and secondary muscular problems and the effects of central or peripheral nervous system lesions of the musculoskeletal system.
Specialty training required prior to certification: A minimum of five years (including Surgery).

American Board of Pathology
A pathologist deals with the causes and nature of disease and contributes to diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment through knowledge gained by the laboratory application of the biologic, chemical, and physical sciences. This specialist uses information gathered from the microscopic examination of tissue specimens, cells, and body fluids, and from clinical laboratory tests on body fluids and secretions for the diagnosis, exclusion, and monitoring of disease.
Specialty training required prior to certification: Three to four years

American Academy of Pediatrics
Pediatricians practice the specialty of medical science concerned with the physical, emotional, and social health of children from birth to young adulthood. Pediatric care encompasses a broad spectrum of health services ranging from preventive health care to the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic diseases. Pediatricians understand the many factors that affect the growth and development of children. They understand that children are not simply small adults. Children change rapidly, and they must be approached with an appreciation for their stage of physical and mental development.
Specialty training required prior to certification: Three years

American Psychiatric Association
A Psychiatrist specializes in the evaluation and treatment of mental, addictive, and emotional disorders such as schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance-related disorders, sexual and gender identity disorders, and adjustment disorders.
Specialty training required prior to certification: Four years

American College of Surgeons
A General Surgeon has principal expertise in the diagnosis and care of patients with diseases and disorders affecting the abdomen, digestive tract, endocrine system, breast, skin, and blood vessels. A General Surgeon is also trained in the treatment of patients who are injured or critically ill, and in the care of pediatric and cancer patients. General Surgeons are skilled in the use of minimally invasive techniques and endoscopies. Common conditions treated by General Surgeons include hernias, gallstones, appendicitis, breast tumors, thyroid disorders, pancreatitis, bowel obstructions, colon inflammation, and colon cancer. Some General Surgeons pursue additional training and specialize in the fields of Pediatric Surgery, Surgical Oncology, Vascular Surgery, Trauma Surgery, Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Transplant Surgery, and others.
Specialty training required prior to certification: Five years

Definitions in this section are taken from Guide to Medical Specialties (2017), a publication of the American Board of Medical Specialties.