Kenneth V. Iserson, M.D., MBA
Professor Emeritus, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

How many physician specialties and subspecialties can you name? Did you think of Aerospace Medicine, Clinical Genetics, Medical Microbiology, Neurodevelopmental Disabilities, or Neuromuscularskeletal Medicine & OMM? How about Pediatric Transplant Hepatology? Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine? Vascular and Interventional Radiology? Probably not, especially if you have had no contact with them.

Of course, you thought of Internal Medicine, Surgery, Pediatrics, Obstetrics/Gynecology and Psychiatry—the core disciplines. But did you know that Internal Medicine has 20 official subspecialties, Pediatrics has 19, and OB/Gyn has 6. General Surgery has 5 plus the various surgical specialties that students can enter directly, such as Urology and Otolaryngology.

According to the American Board of Medical Specialties, in mid-2015 there were about 164 medical specialties and subspecialties. The American Osteopathic Association offers a few more.

Moreover, many specialties are not officially recognized, such as Trauma/Acute Care Surgery and Women’s Health, although many physicians practice in these areas. During your career, many new specialties and subspecialties will arise as emerging technologies, understanding of diseases, and healthcare delivery systems develop.

Do your homework and explore the entire spectrum of medicine’s options before honing in on some areas to explore in depth. In other words, scan the whole menu before ordering up your own specialty choice; it will be worth your while.


Based on: Iserson’s Getting Into a Residency: A Guide for Medical Students, 8th edition
Tucson, AZ: Galen Press, Ltd.


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