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- How to Become a Doctor
- When Do Doctors Specialize?
- Least Competitive Medical Specialties
- Best Pre-Med Schools
Becoming a doctor is not an easy task. It involves hard work, extensive preparation, and a certain level of intensity. That being said, there are some specialties that are more or less competitive than others.
In this post, we’ll go over the steps to becoming a doctor, including the process of specializing. We’ll also rank the “easiest” types of doctor to become and what each specialty does.
How to Become a Doctor
If you can’t be pre-med in high school, how do you prepare for your future medical career? The answer: strategically navigating the college application and admissions process. Keep your goal of becoming a doctor in mind as you decide which universities to apply to. You will want to consider the rigor of each school’s science classes, the effectiveness of pre-med advising, how research would factor into your college career, whether hospitals are accessible, and the financial viability of each university.
Your time in college is critical to your medical career because your undergraduate years are when you complete your pre-med requirements and bolster your medical school application. Medical school has extensive requirements to be completed as part of your undergraduate studies. These requirements generally include multiple semesters of biology, physics, chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and math.
While you need all pre-med prerequisites to apply to medical school, medical schools also heavily consider your success on the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) in their decisions. Preparing for the MCAT should be high on your priority list during your undergraduate studies.
In medical school, you will have intensive coursework on a variety of subjects (anatomy, pathology, pharmacology, and more), then your coursework will be supplemented by hands-on experience. This includes exploring different specialties through clinical rotations so that you can confidently select your specialty when applying to residency.
After finishing up medical school, you are a Doctor (sort of)! You will still spend three to seven years under more experienced doctors, working as a resident. This is where you will become an expert in your specialty. You must pass a board exam for your specialty before practicing on your own.
Learn more about the steps to becoming a doctor in our blog post.
When Do Doctors Specialize?
During the first two years of medical school, students do preclinical training and are advised to keep an open mind toward different specialties. In the same way that undergraduates have the freedom to change their major early in their college career, medical students are not locked into their specialty right away.
Usually, at the beginning of the third year of medical school, students start clinical rotations. This is when students shadow physicians and residents, interact with patients, and see the applications of their coursework. You can choose to clerk for doctors in different areas, such as general surgery, gynecology, internal medicine, or orthopedics. Some people also view clinical rotations as networking opportunities and informal interviews.
Clinical rotations exert a major influence on the specialties chosen by medical students. Sometimes they reinforce the long-standing desires of students, and other times they expose students to new and interesting paths. When doing rotations, it is important to think about what you want out of your future job. Some factors that influence a doctor’s specialty choice include:
- Work/life balance
- Income expectations
- Personality of other doctors
- Length of residency
- Amount of contact with patients
- Time in hospital vs. time in office
When applying for your residency, you finally decide on your specialty. Residency applications are typically submitted in the fall of your fourth year of medical school. If you need more time to decide your specialty, there are subinternship opportunities or you can take an extra year.
Least Competitive Medical Specialties
Competitiveness is often rated an important factor for students deciding their specialty. Using the average United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 scores (assesses the foundational medical knowledge of medical school students) and the average number of abstracts, publications, and presentations of first-year residents by specialty in 2019-20, we’ve created a list of least competitive specialties.
1. Family Medicine
Average Step 1 Score: 215.5
Average Number of Publications: 2.5
Family medicine practitioners are trained in pediatrics and adult care (including gynecology and gastroenterology) so that they can treat every member of the family. Their work involves comprehensive care and requires an understanding of most ailments. Family medicine doctors are typically more involved with office-based work (‘well’ and ‘sick’ visits) than hospital-based work.
Average Step 1 Score: 222.8
Average Number of Publications: 4.4
Psychiatrists diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders as well as substance abuse disorders. Diagnosis typically involves conversations with patients and common treatments include psychotherapy and medication.
3. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Average Step 1 Score: 224.2
Average Number of Publications: 4.3
Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) physicians work with patients with physical impairments or disabilities (from disease, condition, or injury) to improve their functionality and quality of life. PM&R uses physical therapy and pain management and attempts to avoid surgical operations.
Average Step 1 Score: 225.4
Average Number of Publications: 4.2
Pediatricians focus on children exclusively. They are concerned with the variety of physical, mental, social, and behavioral health factors that affect children until age 18. Pediatricians must understand the typical development of children to ensure that their patients are developing healthily.
Average Step 1 Score: 225.6
Average Number of Publications: 4.2
Pathologists focus on disease and the ways that disease affects the body. They are often heavily involved with lab work and analysis of samples from patients. Pathologists aid physicians in other specialties in their diagnosis of patients and are often involved in treatment regimens.
6. Internal Medicine (Categorical)
Average Step 1 Score: 230.4
Average Number of Publications: 4.5
Internal medicine exclusively focuses on adults and adult health conditions. Physicians (called internists) prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases and conditions that affect any part of the adult body. They are involved with health maintenance, disease screening, and often make referrals to other specialists.
While Emergency Medicine (EM) would be rated as one of the easier medical specialties based on the USMLE Step 1 and publication number, the supply of EM residents is greater than the demand, making it harder to be an Emergency Medicine Physician than other specialties.
If you are interested in any of these specialties, or any others, check out CollegeVine’s comprehensive review of medical specialties, which includes median salaries.
Best Pre-Med Schools
It is a common misconception that pre-med is a major, but at most schools, it is a “track” that students follow to fulfill the prerequisites for applying to medical school. Find out more about pre-med requirements.
Some colleges that are known for their pre-med advising, access to medical opportunities, rigorous STEM courses, and high medical school acceptance rates include:
- Harvard University
- Duke University
- University of Pennsylvania
- Washington University in St. Louis
- Rice University
- Stanford University
- Northwestern University
- Brown University
- Amherst College
- Case Western Reserve University
View more top pre-med schools to get an idea where you might want to apply. And to get a grasp on your chances of admission at various universities, we recommend using our free admissions calculator. By inputting your grades, extracurriculars, and more, we’ll estimate your odds of acceptance, and help you improve your candidate profile.