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While some students begin medical school with a well-conceived idea of the specialty they’ll pursue, other students have focused so intently on preparing for medical school that the notion of choosing a specialty seems quite remote.

Of those who begin medical school with a specialty in mind, only about one-quarter of a medical school cohort stick with this choice throughout medical school.1 This means, conversely, about three-quarters of a medical school cohort either have no idea of the specialty they'll pursue upon matriculation or end up changing their mind during medical school. In fact, several studies support this finding.2

Physician specialty choice is a complex decision that includes many influencing factors. To better understand what influences students’ specialty choice decisions, the AAMC’s Graduation Questionnaire (GQ) asks final-year students how influential the following factors were in helping them choose their specialty. The graph below illustrates the top ten responses for moderate to strong influences. 

Careers in Medicine (CiM) provides students’ tools and resources to learn about and assess their fit with specialty options, which students consistently rate as the most influential factors on their specialty choice. As such, students need

  • help understanding how their interests, values, skills and personally fit with a specialty
  • current, accurate specialty information and opportunities to explore their options
  • trained mentors and advisors who can guide them through the career-planning process
Bar chart displaying results of question on the AAMC Graduation Questionnaire about what factors influenced final-year student survey respondants in determining their specialty choice.
  1. 2023 AAMC Report on Residents: Table A1. Continuity of Specialty Preference on the Matriculating Student Questionnaire and the AAMC Graduation Questionnaire.

  2. Kazerooni, EA; Blane, CE; Schlesinger, AE; Vydarney, KH. Medical students' attitudes toward radiology; comparison of matriculating and graduating student. Academic Radiology. 8/1/1997. 4(8). 601-607.